'I saw Highland Towers block crash to the ground'

'I saw Highland Towers block crash to the ground'
Family members and friends place flowers at the base of the memorial erected six months after the tragedy to remember those who lost their lives in the disaster.

They once stood glorious and full of life, home to affluent families and expatriates, but today the two Highland Towers apartment buildings that remain at Taman Hillview, Ulu Klang, Selangor, cut a forlorn figure.

Formerly part of a luxury hillside development comprising three 12-storey blocks, the two blocks were evacuated after Block 1 collapsed after a massive landslide on Dec 11 1993. Forty-eight people died in the tragedy.

Within the first 24 hours, only two women and an infant were pulled out of the rubble. Indonesian maid Umi Rashidah Khoruman, 22, and her 18-month old daughter Nur Hamidah Najib, survived the ordeal, but the second woman, Japanese national Shizue Nakajima, 50, succumbed to her injuries.

Despite being only 12 at that time, Zhariff Afandi, a former resident of Block 1, remembers the tragedy vividly.

"It's not something that ex-residents like me can talk about easily, even today. It was devastating that a tragedy like this had happened to us. I was playing video games at a friend's apartment in Block 2 when we heard a loud bang. We rushed to his balcony, which faced the hillside, and when I saw the landslide rushing towards my block, my heart sank.

"My one-year-old brother and six-year-old sister were at home with our maid in our apartment. My parents were out, and I was very worried for their safety," recalled the social entrepreneur.

"My friend's mother decided it was best that we leave the apartment. When we reached the ground I started to run towards my block, but she pulled me back. Instead, she led us in the opposite direction to Block 3, out of harm's way. From here we looked back on Block 1. It had started to fall, buckling forwards a little, before crashing to the ground in a cloud of dust that was so thick I couldn't see anything, even my own feet.

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