See snapshots of tragedy in exhibition of ST photos

See snapshots of tragedy in exhibition of ST photos

It started as an electrical short circuit, but developed into a huge blaze that killed nine people.

The Robinson's Department Store fire broke out on Nov 21, 1972.

Due to its severity, 17 fire engines were sent to fight the blaze.

Despite having the equipment needed, the firefighters were unable to rescue some people because of the heat and smoke, which reduced the four-storey building to an empty, burnt-out shell.

Eight of those who died were the store's employees, while the ninth was a shopper.

A black-and-white photo taken by Mr Mak Kian Seng, a retired photographer from The Straits Times, captured the dramatic burnt-out shell of the damaged store.

Mr Mak's colleague, Mr Francis Ong, who accompanied him on the assignment, recounted: "It happened really long ago and all I remember is that it was unbearable. The height of the flames was frightening."

Mr Mak took the shot from the top of the then Ocean Building, which meant he and Mr Ong had to climb 43 storeys.


Mr Mak told The New Paper: "When we climbed to the top of the building, my legs had gone soft. I was really tired, but we needed an aerial view of the building."

Like them, Mr Wong Kwai Chow too encountered his fair share of disasters.

One of them was the Nicoll Highway collapse in 2004 which claimed four lives. In this incident, the steel support for the tunnel that was being built for the Circle Line collapsed and the highway caved in.

As a result, gas and electricity cables snapped, leaving about 15,000 people and 700 companies in the vicinity powerless.

Tremors were also felt in Golden Mile Complex and tenants there were evacuated immediately.

Mr Wong, a retired photographer with The Straits Times, recalled how he took the photo, which gave viewers a sense of the extent of the collapse.

"There was no way to get around the debris, so I had to go to the carpark near Golden Mile Complex and climb over a wall before I could reach the scene," he recounted.

The site was out of bounds to the public, but members of the media were allowed in to take photographs.

After about 20 minutes, Mr Wong and other photographers were also asked to leave for safety reasons.

Determined to get a good shot of the incident, the intrepid photographer went up to the highest level of a carpark near Golden Mile Complex and got his shot.

This article was published on May 8 in The New Paper.

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