The township of Taman Hillview in Malaysia’s Klang Valley is conveniently close to Kuala Lumpur and became popular with expatriates from the 1970s, despite being in landslip country. That didn’t deter developers from erecting three 12-storey apartment blocks collectively known as Highland Towers in this verdant setting, starting in 1975 and completing the project in 1978. The buildings were erected on a flat section of elevated ground at the base of a steep hill terraced with randomly constructed retaining walls. A stream was diverted into a pipe culvert and a further web of drains was created to serve an extensive bungalow development. It was an ambitious scheme that would end in tears.
After a prolonged period of heavy rain towards the end of 1993 a huge mudslide overwhelmed a retaining wall in the three-tier Highland Towers car park. The sheer force of the slide, combined with ground weakened by the diverted stream and foundation pilings that were simply not deep enough, caused Building One to topple on its side – a terrible event captured in a dramatic series of photographs shot by a visiting American. Rescuers had to halt their efforts after a further slide occurred and when they finally finished combing through the rubble 48 bodies had been recovered.
Although the Malaysian government placed an immediate ban on hillside development after Highland Towers, this risky form of construction continued apace and 15 years later another catastrophe occurred close to the site of the original tragedy, when four people died, many were injured and 5,000 had to be evacuated after a large development area in nearby Bukit Antarabangsa was declared a disaster zone following… a massive mudslide. The Malaysian government’s reaction to the latest disaster was predictable. It placed an immediate ban on hillside development.
When: December 11 1993
Where: Taman Hillview, Selangor, Malaysia
Death toll: 48 residents were killed in the collapse.
You should know: Abandoned after the destruction of Building One for safety reasons, the vandalized Buildings Two and Three of Highland Towers still stand today above the Kuala Lumpur ring road, rising incongruously above encroaching jungle greenery that is fast reclaiming the site.