KUALA LUMPUR: Two abandoned buildings stand at the site of Highland Towers, a grim and sombre reminder of the worst housing tragedy the nation has seen.
The apartment blocks in Ulu Klang previously played home to a warm and close-knit community, residents say, but now its decrepit facade is a ghost of its former self.
Years have passed since the collapse of Tower One on Dec 11,1993, but former residents want the tragedy to be commemorated.
Former Highland Towers Residents Committee secretary Chan Keng Fook, 62, said the event was a “milestone event in Malaysia’s history”.
In light of plans to redevelop the area into a recreational park, Chan hopes there would be some way to pay tribute to the 48 people who were killed there.
Among those who died were the son and daughter-in-law of former deputy prime minister Tun Musa Hitam, Carlos Rashid and Rosina Abu Bakar.
“For me, it doesn’t matter what they redevelop the site into, but one thing they must not do is to let this be forgotten.
“The tragedy must be remembered, and action must be taken to ensure that this kind of event does not happen again, ” Chan said.
Last month, Ampang Jaya Municipal Council president Datuk Abdul Hamid Hussain said it was still waiting for directions from the government before proceeding with redevelopment plans.
Chan recalled the community spirit among the residents, especially the children.
“The children used to go and play with each other and they ran around the whole complex. They lived in different blocks but they went to the same school, ” he said.
Chan urged for developers to be longsighted and responsible when drawing up development plans.
“Construction has got to be done in a responsible manner, and in a way that does not pose a danger to residents. You never know what will happen in the next five or even 20 years.
“The building was built in the 1980s but it was 10 years down the road before Tower One collapsed, ” said Chan, who himself used to work for a property developer.
Another former resident, Dr Iain Gray, said there should be a permanent memorial for the victims of the tragedy.
“Even if they want to build something beautiful (at the site) out of a tragic situation, at least show that these people are not forgotten.
“It was a special community there, everybody knew each other, ” said the 74-year-old architect and master planner.
He recalled the chaos and trauma that ensued after the tower collapsed, but he also remembered how the Malaysian community rallied to assist rescue efforts in any way possible.
“All Malaysians came together to help, there was no looking at race, creed or colour. Everyone just worked together to try to do their little bit, ” said Gray, who was part of the rescue team for 12 days.
Robert Kennedy, whose family resided in the vicinity at the time, said the site was a picture of great suffering and disaster after the landslide.
“My aunt, who was living here, said there was a foul stench. For a few months, the smell was very bad, ” he said.
Kennedy, who currently lives in Taman Hillview near the site, said the once-stately condominium had been having unwanted visitors in recent years.
“There used to be teenagers who would come every Saturday night in big groups of 20 to 30 people. They made a lot of noise in the middle of the night.
“The residents used to be able to take a walk inside the building, but now it has been sealed up, ” he said when met near his house.
A visit to the site showed that the security has been tightened, as the abandoned buildings have been boarded up and non-residents need to present an authorised letter before entering the area.