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Collapse of Hotel New World (Lian Yak Building) 15th Mar 1986

On 15 March 1986 at approximately 11.25 am, Lian Yak Building, located at the junction of Serangoon and Owen roads and which housed the Hotel New World, suddenly collapsed.[1] It was a total collapse: The entire building from ground level upwards gave way, falling to the ground and basement levels, with no wall or column left standing. The collapse was also swift, lasting  less than a minute.[2]

Search-and-rescue operations began immediately with the arrival of two Singapore Fire Service (SFS) fire engines at the scene eight minutes after the building collapsed,[3] followed shortly by the police. Within half an hour, regulars and volunteers of the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF), as well as medical personnel from the Singapore Armed Forces, had also arrived.[4] By afternoon, various cabinet ministers, including then First Deputy Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong and then Minister for Home Affairs S Jayakumar, were on-site to assess the situation.[5] The rescue operations, however,  encountered difficulties as the rescue personnel were neither trained nor equipped to deal with such a situation.[6] As a result, the authorities decided to call in tunnelling experts from Britain, Ireland and Japan, who were stationed in Singapore at the time for the construction of the Mass Rapid Transit rail system.[7]  The entire search-and-rescue operations lasted four days.  When it ended,  rescuers had  pulled out  17 survivors and 33 bodies from the rubble.[8]

A commission of inquiry was appointed in March 1986 to investigate the cause of the collapse.[9] In the final report, released in February 1987, the panel concluded that the collapse was caused by various factors, including the building’s poor structural design as well as shoddy construction.[10] The construction also deviated from the architectural drawings, which compounded the inadequacy of the structural design.[11] The problem was further exacerbated by new installations on the roof that included a water tank weighing about 21.8 tonnes (21,800 kg).[12]

To prevent a similar occurrence, the commission recommended that the government assume a more active role in the building industry. Other recommendations include having the government conduct more irregular spot checks at construction sites and reviewing existing laws to force building owners to conduct five-yearly maintenance checks on all buildings. Building owners were also exhorted to adopt more stringent standards in reviewing building plans, testing structural materials and supervising structural works.[13] In addition to these measures, the Hotel New World disaster prompted the government to merge the SFS with the SCDF on 15 April 1989 in order to streamline and improve the efficiency of rescue services.[14]

1. Lee, P. (1986, March 16). 100 still trapped. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
2. Thean, L. P., et. al. (1987). Report of the inquiry into the collapse of Hotel New World (p. 1). Singapore: Singapore National Printers. Call no.: RSING 690.85095957 SIN.
3. Hon, J. (1987). Hotel New World collapse (p. 11). Singapore: Times Books International. Call no.: RSING 904.7095957 HON.
4. Hon, 1987, p. 11.
5. How the events unfold. (1986, March 16). The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
6. Hon, 1987, p. 26.
7. Hon, 1987, p. 26.
8. Thean, 1987, p. 1.
9. Thean, 1987, p. 1.
10. Thean, 1987, p. 62.
11. Thean, 1987, pp. 62–63.
12. Thean, 1987, p. 63.
13. Thean, 1987, pp. 88–89.
14. Fully-merged disaster force by end of the year. (1989, April 11). The Straits Times, p. 32; Jaya officiates at unusual opening ceremony. (1989, April 16). The Straits Times, p. 16. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.


The information in this article is valid as at 2014 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

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