Do they know it’s Christmas…

KUALA LUMPUR: A massive landslide occurred in Bukit Antarabangsa at 3.30am Saturday. One resident is still missing while four people have been found dead, said Selangor police chief Datuk Khalid Abu Bakar. However, police have not ruled out the possibility that passers-by may also be trapped.

Three of the dead have been identified as veterinarian, Dr. N. Yogeswari, 40, accountant Ng Yee Ping, 30 and Shaiful Khas Shaharuddin, 20. The body of Indonesian maid Surina was removed from the rubble at around 7.40pm Saturday.
(News extract from

This news report brings to mind the Highland Towers tragedy in December 1993 and the article in SPEAKEASY in the New Straits Times entitled “Did they know it was Christmas?” which impressed me so much that I have kept it all these years and used it regularly in my English classes. The opening paragraphs go like this:
The young woman stood a little apart from the crowd wrapped in a cocoon of grief so great that it rebuked approach, lest something fragile might shatter. A contagion seemed to be spreading for a great many things already lay broken. The giant fist that had smacked the Highland Towers apartment blocked into a heap of rubble had shattered homes, dreams and lives.

Did they know it was Christmas?

It was the season of hope but after eight days, hope was ebbing entombed under the concrete and tangled steel that lay strewn across a small portion of rain swept hill that was once exclusive. It was the season of peace on earth, goodwill to all men…

…and he went on to slam the banks that were only concerned about the housing loans, and the insurance companies that were not sure if the fine print included landslides, the politicians – both government and opposition – that were more like empty drums that made the most sound, and the five-star hotels that competed with one another to offer food, clothes and lodging and yet they did not bat an eyelid when 300-odd residents of low-cost flats in Seremban had to be evacuated for fear of possible collapse.

But he wrote in praise of the many who thronged the blood bank of the Kuala Lumpur Hospital in response to an initial appeal; so many turned up that they had to be turned away, and hundreds of people volunteered help. Jayasankaran continued:
Perhaps it was, after all, the season of giving because the volunteers received little but heartbreak. And epiphany may have finally been a television reporter breaking down and crying when the first mangled remains of a child were being gently extricated.

He concluded his piece with this thought-provoking closing:
In that gesture of simple humanity lay hope. It had to be so. All those deaths would be meaningless if nothing were derived from this tragedy. Merry Christmas, everyone.

So, the question remains. Has anything been derived from the 1993 tragedy? The statistics below for this year alone may answer that question:

Dec 4 – 300 people were forced to evacuate two buildings when a landslide caused part of the retaining wall of a car park to collapse in Jalan Semantan, Kuala Lumpur.

Nov 30 – Two sisters were buried alive when a landslide hit their bungalow in Ulu Yam Perdana near Kuala Kubu Baru, Selangor.

Oct 22 – Tonnes of earth came crashing down a hill onto the grounds of the Taman Terubong Jaya apartments in Butterworth where over 1,000 residents were staying.

Oct 19 – Four families evacuated from houses along the banks of Sungai Kayu Ara in Petaling Jaya, Selangor, after landslide there.

Oct 17 – Two Indonesians were killed after they were buried alive by tonnes of sand in a landslide in Ganesan Quarry, Hulu Langat near Kajang, Selangor.

Oct 15 – A landslide after a downpour at Pinggir Bukit Segar, Cheras, Selangor caused a family to move out as they feared for their safety.

Sept 6 – Roads from the George Town to Teluk Bahang and Balik Pulau in Penang were cut off due to landslides and fallen trees.

Jan 17 – Two foreign workers were killed after they were buried in a landslide while working at a plantation in Cameron Highlands.