I Explored Highland Towers Where A Landslide Killed 48 People in 1993 — Here’s What’s Inside

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The story of Highland Towers sends chills down everybody’s spine. It was erected back in 1977-1981 but one of the towers collapsed in 1993, killing 48 people.

Aerial shot of the Highland Towers

The History of Highland Towers

On December 11th, 1993, the 12-storey Block One Highland Towers hillslope apartments in Taman Hillview, Hulu Klang, Selangor collapsed at 1.30pm.

Rescue workers were able to retrieve the remains of the first victim, a young girl, and the right arm of a fair skinned woman with a gold bracelet on the wrist.

On the third day, the rescue operations were joined by Disaster Rescue Teams from France and Japan.   

KUALA LUMPUR, 12 Disember 1993 -- Kelihatan Anggota Polis sedang membuat kawalan di sekitar kawasan bangunan Highland Tower yang runtuh semalam di sini, hari ini. -- fotoBERNAMA HAKCIPTA TERPELIHARA
[Image via The Star Online]
A note, tied to a wire with the message, “Help us, we are still alive” was found to indicate the first signs of life beneath the rubble in a room on the fourth floor. However, no survivor was found.

Most of the highly-decomposed bodies were found near the staircase of the third to fourth floors between Dec 18 and Dec 19.

On the 12th day, rescue operations ended, with a 500-strong multinational rescue team having recovered 48 bodies from the building. Only 2 survivors were rescued from the wreckage — An Indonesian mother and 18-month old child.

Since the collapse, every tenant was evacuated due to safety concerns, and the 2 remaining towers eerily stand on the grounds till this very day.

Entering Highland Towers

When you drop a pin on Google maps, you can see the two dilapidated buildings. Even on Google Street view, it still gives you the creeps!

Google Maps streetview of the Highland Towers

Entering the grounds was easier than I expected. My boyfriend and I pushed past some bushes, and came abruptly to an opening where the shrubs ended. I was awe-struck as I laid my eyes on the two buildings towering above me. 

I was awe-struck as I laid my eyes on the two buildings towering above me. 

“I’m actually in!” I yelped at the surreal realisation. Then, we carefully approached the tower closest to us, unsure whether anything, or even anyone was waiting for us. 

The basement of the tower was dark and spooky. I clung onto my boyfriend’s arm tightly as we carefully climbed up the stairs. 

The entrance of the tower was overgrown with weeds and vandalised walls.

The entrance of the tower was overgrown with weeds and vandalised walls.

The base of the stairwell that we took to the top.

The base of the stairwell that we took to the top.

Two or three bats came swerving out of the corner. “OMG” I shouted, while ducking.  

Honestly, that was the scariest moment throughout our exploration of this abandoned place.

Many urban explorers before us claimed to have sighted signs of drug use, but we personally didn’t know what to look out for.

We had to climb the staircase without a railing.

We had to climb the staircase without a railing, which could have been dangerous.

There were 13 floors and we stopped at every floor, taking in what once was. 

A bathroom with part of the wall collapsed in.

A bathroom with part of the wall collapsed in.

Fallen cupboards and broken woodwork in various degrees of dilapidation.

Fallen cupboards and broken woodwork in various degrees of dilapidation.

A common occurrence for abandoned buildings is for its metals to be stripped off by looters and sold for small money. 

All of the electrical wiring, window frames, balcony railings, and elevator doors had been removed.

Highland Towers was not spared despite its eerie history. All of the electrical wiring, window frames, balcony railings, and elevator doors had been removed.

Wiring was stripped from the walls and ceilings.

Wiring was stripped from the walls and ceilings.

Balcony railings were removed, showing an unobstructed view of the suburb.

Balcony railings were removed, showing an unobstructed view of the suburb.

Elevator doors have been taken away, including the elevator button housing.

Elevator doors have been taken away, including the elevator button housing.

The elevator shaft, with no elevator or elevator cables visible.

The elevator shaft, with no elevator or even elevator cables visible.

The looters would remove the toilet seats and wall portions to uncover and strip away the metals, and then dump the leftover broken ceramics and bricks in the kitchen.

The looters would remove the toilet seats and wall portions to uncover and strip away the metals, and then dump the leftover broken ceramics and bricks in the kitchen.

Most of the rooms were empty, but for a couple units, there were items that were left behind. It’s crazy to think that they’ve been untouched since 27 years ago. 

A hallway featuring a large wardrobe with its backing missing, showing the wall behind.

A hallway featuring a large wardrobe with its backing missing, showing the wall behind.

A jar of honey, a name card holder, newspaper scraps, a slipper, and some lacy undergarments.

A jar of honey, a name card holder, newspaper scraps, a slipper, and some lacy undergarments.

Time stood still for the towers

We found diaries and address books dating back to 1993, the very year Tower 1 collapsed.

This diary is from Singapore Press Holdings — perhaps the owner was a Singaporean expat.

This diary is from Singapore Press Holdings — perhaps the owner was a Singaporean expat.

Another diary, printed in 1981, with a pair of grey woolen gloves underneath.

Another diary, printed in 1981, with a pair of grey woolen gloves underneath.

One of the strangest feelings I got was when I stumbled across this Korean newspaper dating back to 2 December 1993 — just 9 days before the tower’s collapse. It probably sat right where I found it for years, left alone after its owners moved out.

Korean newspaper dating back to 2 December 1993

The Cause of the Collapse

Before the construction of Highland Towers, a small stream known as East Creek used to flow through the site. A pipe system was built to divert the stream. 

In the days preceding the collapse, there was heavy rainfall, overloading the pipes with water and mud. When the pipes burst, the soil around the pipes had to absorb the excessive water. 

The mass of water-logged soil contained 100,000 square meters of mud (equivalent to 200 Boeing 747 planes), moved towards the building.

[A newspaper clipping from 1993 covering the collapse. Image via The Star Online]

The resulting landslide destroyed the retaining walls and foundation of Block 1. According to ear-witnesses, a loud crack could be heard when the steel collapsed under the weight of the landslide.

Sadly, residents had already noticed cracks forming on the roads from as early as November, (a sign that the tower was about to collapse), but it was never investigated. 

As the foundation snapped, the landslide pushed the block forward, leading to its collapse on 11 December 1993.

The top floor featured a penthouse suite that would have had a good view of the city back in its heyday.

The top floor featured a penthouse suite that would have had a good view of the city back in its heyday.

The roof had already caved in, allowing saplings and grasses to sprout from seeds inside bird droppings.

The roof had already caved in, allowing saplings and grasses to sprout from seeds inside bird droppings.

You’ll also see how nature is now taking back their land — with branches and roots piercing through tough concrete slabs.

You’ll also see how nature is now taking back their land — with branches and roots piercing through tough concrete slabs.

The ground floor of the second tower.

It took us about 2 hours to explore the first tower. 

As we wanted to move on to the second tower, two men were about to enter the tower from the side. One of them had a machete to cut down the weed in front of them, while the other man had a saw strapped to his backpack. 

I was unsure whether they were drug addicts or construction workers (as there’s a construction site just beside Highland Towers), but I wasn’t going to wait around to find out.

Obviously scared, I yanked my boyfriend to leave quickly — because if anything were to happen to us, no one would be around to find out.

We’ll just have to explore Tower 2 some other day!

The beaten path leading to Highland Towers

This story was kindly recounted and photos provided by Michelle Tan.

For more stories like this, read: I Visited An Abandoned Scottish Mansion In Malaysia — Here’s What I Found and I Explored Tanjung Rambutan’s Mental Asylum – Here’s What It’s Really Like. 

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