By Fathol Zaman Bukhari
It came as no surprise when Taman Kledang Permai, Taman Arked and part of the Menglembu Light Industrial area were inundated by muddy water. Residents living in these affected areas got a rude shock when they woke up early on the morning of Friday, March 1 to see water gushing into their houses. It happened so fast that most could only escape with their lives and the clothes on their backs. Their belongings, and the precious little they owned, had to be abandoned. The flooding and the ensuing mudslide were caused by heavy rain that fell for two continuous days.
The root cause can be easily traced to the massive development currently taking place at the foothills and on slopes of the Kledang Range. Since Taman Kledang Permai, Taman Arked and the Menglembu Light Industrial area are adjacent to the project site, disaster was, literally, waiting to happen, and it happened.
The site covers an area of about 24 ha. It is being developed as a multi-million ringgit project known locally as the SEGi Enclave. According to iProperty.com, a leading property website in the country, SEGi Enclave is described as, “Ipoh’s first integrated university college township. The enclave consists of shop-offices, apartments, gated and guarded high-end condos and luxury semi-dees and bungalows”.
Prices of houses and condos, claims the website, range between RM250,000 to RM1.5 million. The SEGi University College campus will be located here. Once completed it will rival the UTAR Campus in Kampar in size. The property is being developed by Ipoh-based Energiser Properties Sdn Bhd.
Mudslides and landslides are not something new in Malaysia. Lives lost caused by landslides taking down apartment blocks and houses have happened before and will continue to happen. Some say it is an act of God. I beg to differ. God has nothing to do with these man-made disasters. They all have one common trait – greed. It is greed of the human kind, plain and simple.
The Highland Towers tragedy of 1993 is still fresh in our minds. It took place on December 11, 1993 at Taman Hillview, Ulu Klang, Selangor. The collapse of Block One of the apartments took the lives of 48 innocent people. Residents from two other blocks had to be evacuated for safety reasons. A lengthy legal battle ensued with no conclusive results in sight.
Nine years after the incident in November 2002, a bungalow belonging to former Armed Forces Chief, General (Rtd) Tan Sri Ismail Omar collapsed due to a landslide. His house was located metres away from the ill-fated towers. Ismail lost his wife.
The fate of Highland Towers is sealed for good. Today the three towers are in complete disarray, stripped of contents and dignity in its entirety, the towers are left to rot in the unforgiving tropical sun.
The primary cause of the Highland Towers collapse was structural failure. The development of Bukit Antarabangsa, a housing project on the hilltop behind the Towers in 1991 was the catalyst. The hill was cleared of trees and undergrowth thus exposing the soil to erosion that eventuated in the landslide.
Fortunately, the mudslide at the foothills of the Kledang Range on Friday, March 1 did not result in any death. However, over a thousand residents had the fright of their lives. Death must have stared them in the eyes, but due to quick thinking a major tragedy was averted. This goes to show Ipohites’ resilience, per se, but to what extent? I believe something of the equivalent of the Highland Towers tragedy would have a numbing impact on our conscience.
Mayor Roshidi Hashim was miffed by the attitude of those responsible for developing the project. Ipoh City Council’s warnings had gone unheeded. “It’s difficult to make people understand the severity of their actions,” he remarked.
The Council had come under severe criticism for allowing the project to continue although danger signs were already visible and complaints made. A warning, apparently, was issued to the developer in November 2012 for failing to comply with the Council’s regulations. Why was the warning ignored is anybody’s guess.
“The Council’s role as a facilitator has not been taken seriously,” said a dejected Roshidi.
The developer has undertaken the responsibility of clearing the mess, a plus point by all means. A report on the incident will be presented to the state government by Ipoh City Council. It should be ready by March 18, hopefully.