Headlines, Lifelines

Life

The Sunday Times, March 16, 1986

By Philip Lee

FEVERISH rescue operations continued throughout last night and into this morning to reach the victims still buried under the rubble of the six-storey Hotel New World in Serangoon Road which collapsed like a house of cards at 11.26 am yesterday.

Rescuers used sound detectors to pick up faint moans and cries for help from the injured.

Among them was a woman named Helen who had repeatedly pleaded with rescue workers to amputate her badly crushed legs. But she was freed at 10.15 pm and whisked to the Singapore General Hospital by one of the five helicopters deployed for rescue work.

The toll at press time was one dead and nine injured. Of the injured, seven were women. The dead victim was an unidentified woman. Five were later discharged. The survivors were the only ones extricated after more than 12 hours of difficult and delicate rescue work.

A number also miraculously escaped severe injury – like a man from Johor, his wife and teenage daughter who were pulled out after they hurtled down together with falling debris from the fourth level. A few others rescued were earlier on the third or fourth level of the hotel.

It is believed that about 100 people are trapped under the wreck of twisted steel and concrete slabs in Singapore's worst post-war disaster.

It is not known what the chances are of reaching most alive as rescue attempts were hampered by fears that too much movement might cause further cave-ins of heavy concrete slabs and beams. The operation could take a few days.

Explosion

Eye-witnesses said they heard an explosion before the 67-room hotel, at the junction of Serangoon Road and Owen Road, crashed. Police have ruled out a bomb explosion. One theory is that it could have been caused by a gas explosion.

The hotel, built about 15 years ago, was popular with Indian tourists. It was formerly known as New Serangoon Hotel until it changed management and its name in 1984.

Its ground floor was occupied by a branch of the Industrial and Commercial Bank which employed 16 workers.

The hotel itself hired 26 workers. Relatives of staff of the bank and hotel kept vigil throughout the night in the hope that some might still be alive.

Frantic activity went on ceaselessly all night long by about 500 rescue workers from the armed forces, the police, the fire service and the civil defence force.

They used cranes to lift the heavy concrete slabs while others, equipped with power saws, drills, steel cutters and crowbars, gingerly prised away the wreckage layer by layer. Civil engineers were also at the site to give advice.

Rescuers pumped oxygen and compressed air into two cavities where two women were found alive but pinned down.

The authorities are still puzzled over how the building could collapse so suddenly and so completely.

An eye-witness said all was rubble in a matter of seconds.

Catastrophes
of past years in Singapore

Jan 29, 1983: Seven people died when two Sentosa cable cars plunged 55 m into the sea after the derrick of an oil drilling vessel struck the cableway. Fourteen people were rescued -- a two-year-old boy from the sea and the others from the suspended cable cars.

Oct 12, 1978: Seventy-six people died in an explosion on the Greek-owned 64,081-tonne tanker Spyros as it was berthed at Jurong Shipyard for repairs. Sixty-nine were injured.

Nov 12, 1972: Nine died in Robinson's fire due to a short circuit from overload.

May 26, 1961: Five died in massive Bukit Ho Swee fire; 15,694 made homeless.

March 13, 1954: Qantas-BOAC plane from Sydney crashed at Kallang Airport. Thirty-three lives were lost.

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