many young singaporeans - especially, those below 30 years of age - who drive or walk past this hotel and the many foreign visitors who stay in fortuna hotel are likely to be unaware of the tragedy that struck at this site on 15 march 1986. each time i go past this place, i will think of the event that took place some 25 years ago.
that saturday i was in school for some extra-curricular activity duty when i heard the shocking news from my colleague. the then prime minister lee kuan yew described this very tragic incident as 'an unprecedented building collapse'. it was something that could or would have happened in china, india or some undeveloped country. for it to happen here was 'truly unprecedented'.
this was what i saw when i reached serangoon road that afternoon. the whole area was cordoned off and we could just watch from across the road at serangoon plaza. at that time mustafa samsuddin had just taken over the serangoon plaza place from some russian company. the huge crowd watching the rescue operation was not noisy or rowdy. we just stood in awe watching the rumble and prayed silently that those entombed in that mess of rubble would be safe.
that evening and the evening after, i went back again to helplessly watch as rescue operation was carried on around the clock. i had not been into that building but i remembered there was a bank on the ground level. the name of the bank was icb - the industrial and commercial bank. i heard a lot of things while in the crowd - that a number of motorists and their passengers were trapped in the basement car-park and i also heard that mrt engineers were roped in to help with the rescue.
initially, many had imagined that there were hundreds of people trapped under the debris. rescue operation was called off eight days later, on 23 march. by then, the tally showed that 50 people had been trapped when the building collapsed. 17 people were rescued and 33 were killed. of the 33 who died, 23 were singaporeans and the rest, foreigners.