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Five Survivors Found; Workers Tunneling toward Woman Whose Voice Is Heard

March 18, 1986

SINGAPORE (AP) _ Workers tunneling toward a woman whose voice was heard from the rubble of a six-story hotel that collapsed last week had to give up Tuesday when they ran into a concrete slab, a rescue leader reported.

Russell Black, a New Zealander who is a construction manager on Singapore’s new subway system, said workers believed they were within three feet of the woman when they encountered a difficult section of concrete and could not break through. He said they began digging another tunnel from a different direction.

The 67-room Hotel New World collapsed Saturday, and officials said at that time that 100 people in the hotel and a bank on the ground floor were unaccounted for.

As of Monday, 16 survivors were rescued or dug their way out of the wreckage and 10 bodies had been recovered, according to Lim Siam Kim, director of operations at the Home Affairs Ministry. He said the dead were five Malaysians, three Singaporeans and two whose nationality had not been determined.

Lim released on Monday a list of names of 19 foreigners and 28 Singaporeans who are missing, and he said the information was obtained from relatives and friends.

The hotel is located in Singapore’s ″Little India″ district, and most of its guests were from India, Bangladesh and Malaysia.

There were conflicting reports on the numer of voices heard by the rescue teams.

Bernard McKeever of Crossmaglen, Northern Ireland, said, ″Over two hours last night we heard nothing. Then all of a sudden there were cries in three directions.″ McKeever, a tunnel expert, also is helping build the subway line and is directing a crew of his workers in the rescue effort.

He said he believed there could be two or more survivors and his men had seen, but could not remove, threebodies.

Lim said his reports indicated there probably was only one person still alive under the debris, and the government’s Singapore Broadcasting Corp. quoted rescue officials as saying a man’s voice and a woman’s voice were heard.

Lim said there were gasoline fumes in the basement of the collapsed 16- year-old building, but he discounted the danger of an explosion.

Rescue operations focused on the basement parking lot and the first floor, which had a branch office of the Industrial and Commercial Bank branch.

Cranes and other heavy equipment were idle Monday as efforts concentrated on burrowing carefully toward those trapped. Rain prompted workers to erect tents and cover parts of the rubble to prevent the tunnels from becoming wet.

Lim said that workers periodically lowered microphones into the gaps of the rubble to try to detect human voices or movement.

No Americans were known to have been in the hotel when it collapsed at 11:20 a.m. Saturday.

The three men and two women rescued Monday were all Singaporeans.

Lim identified three of them as bank employees - Albert Sim Siang Tuck, 37, and two women, Boh Lee Cheng, 28, and Christina Phua Chiow Fang, 20. All three crawled out on their own and had suffered only minor injuries, Lim said.

Earlier Monday, two men were rescued and flown by helicopter to a hospital where they were listed in stable condition.

Authorities said they have not determined why the hotel collapsed. Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew announced that a high court judge will head a commission of inquiry.

Liew Beng Seng, 21, a delivery man who was rescued about 36 hours after the hotel collapsed, was quoted by the Straits Times newspaper as recalling how he throbbed with pain, became weak from hunger and lost all hope of surviving the disaster.

″As I pushed open the bank’s door, bits of ceiling started to rain on me. I immediately put on my motorcycle crash helmet. It probably saved my life,″ he was quoted as saying from his hospital bed in an interview published Tuesday.

″Next thing I knew I had plunged into a hole and was hanging upside down. Debris kept pouring down,″ he said.

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