TODAY marks 25 years since the Highland Towers condominium collapsed in Hulu Kelang, claiming the lives of 48 residents.
A former Tower Three resident Dr Iain Gray said he plans to visit the site to pay his respects today.
“We remember what happened on that day and feel for the families of the victims,” the 72-year-old said.
Gray was also one of the first people to arrive at the scene.
“I was driving towards Highland Towers at the bottom of the hill when I heard a loud ‘whoomp’ and my first thought was that it could be blasting work from the ongoing construction at the Bukit Antarabangsa housing development project, located on the hilltop behind Highland Towers.
“When I arrived I was shocked to to see Tower One on the ground. There was a lot of dust and people running.
“I ran in to check on my family and once I knew they were safe, I stayed on to help others,” he said.
An engineer by training, Gray helped in rescue efforts to save the survivors and was part of the rescue team for the full 12 days.
Former Highland Towers Residents Committee secretary Chan Keng Fook said he would be visiting the site too.
“I am not sure if anyone else will be going to the site as no formal ceremony has been planned. Some of those involved want to move on.
“I will visit the site and bring along the original poster that was created six months after the tragedy to commemorate those who lost their lives,” he said, adding he goes to the scene of the tragedy once every five years.
For 81-year old Molly Abraham, the clearest memory she has of Highland Towers was its close-knit community.
“We were one of the first families to move into Tower One in 1977, so we got to know the others well.
“I still remember the get-togethers we used to have with the neighbours and still think about them,” said Abraham, adding she was still in touch with some of her former neighbours.
On Dec 11, 1993, one of the three Highland Towers blocks collapsed, killing 48 in the nation’s worst housing tragedy.
It was determined that the earth gave way after 10 days of rainfall causing the landslide.
Residents of the two other blocks were subsequently evacuated.
There were plans to repair the two blocks in 1995, but checks revealed that both structures were unstable and that demolition was the only option.
In August, Housing and Local Government Minister Zuraida Kamaruddin said the site where the two towers currently stand would be turned into a recreational park after they were demolished as the area was not suitable for any structure.
It was earlier reported that there were plans to build 50 bungalows on an 8ha land around the Highland Towers site.
Both Gray and Chan said a park was the best option as it would be a fitting way to preserve the memory of those who perished.
“It is important that we do not forget the events that happened here,” Chan said.
Gray, however, was disappointed that the authorities and developers had not learned their lesson from the incident.
“There are still landslide tragedies happening to this day. And the cause is greed. They have not learned to respect nature,” he said.
A committee comprising 10 government agencies has been formed to study the redevelopment plans, namely the Selangor government, Land and Mines Department, Mineral and Geoscience Department, Drainage and Irrigation Department, Public Works Department and Ampang Jaya Municipal Council (MPAJ).
The ministries involved are Finance, Economic Affairs, Works, as well as Environment and Natural Resources.
The committee has been tasked to identify relevant issues and decide on the direction and strategies for the redevelopment.
MPAJ president Abdul Hamid Hussain said the committee was still in the process of identifying the remaining owners before any redevelopment could take place.
“The Insolvency Department has to resolve the ownership status of 39 units at Highland Towers before the blocks can be demolished.
“We need the owners to come forward to officially surrender their ownership.
“There could be legal implications if the demolition is carried out without consent from all the owners,” he said.
Abdul Hamid said they had hit a stumbling block as not all the owners could be traced while several others were trying to seek compensation.
It was previously reported that the civil suits against those heldliable for the Highland Towers tragedy were dropped following a RM52mil out-of-court settlement in 2004.
It was reported that AmFinance Bhd (formerly Arab-Malaysian Finance Bhd) agreed to pay RM52mil to 139 residents and owners in exchange for the plaintiffs to “release and assign to AmFinance all rights of action in the suits against Highland Properties Sdn Bhd and the developer of Highland Towers”.
They also signed to release or assign their rights and titles to their individual apartment units in Highland Towers and their rights to the common property.
The RM52mil was said to be a full and final settlement for all claims, inclusive of costs, arising and or resulting from three suits against AmFinance.
In 2006, the Federal Court ruled that MPAJ was not liable for the pre- and post-collapse period of Tower One.
The Federal Court stated that local authorities such as MPAJ had full immunity under Section 95(2) of the Street, Drainage and Building Act 1974 (Act 133) from claims for the pre-collapse period.
The court was unanimous in allowing MPAJ’s appeal to set aside the Court of Appeal’s decision holding the council 15% responsible for the pre-collapse period.
As for the post-collapse liability, the Federal Court dismissed with a 2-1 majority the cross-appeal by the 73 residents of Tower Two and Tower Three against the Court of Appeal’s ruling that MPAJ was not liable for losses suffered during the post-collapse period.
Do you know ... The Highland Towers tragedy?