1972 Po Shan Road landslide / Kotewall Road disaster | Gwulo: Old Hong Kong

1972 Po Shan Road landslide / Kotewall Road disaster

1972 Po Shan Road landslide / Kotewall Road disaster
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Date picture taken (may be approximate): 
Saturday, January 1, 1972
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[17 Dec 2013 Update: this link no longer works, but see the Youtube video in the comments below.]

http://hkss.cedd.gov.hk/hkss/eng/download/poshan_incident_english.wmv

From Steve Kerridge's "Bruce Lee: Legends of the Dragon Vol 2" (Tao Publishing, ISBN:978-0-9557920-2-1)

On the 24th June [1972], HK-TVB television station broadcast a live fund raising event in aid of the victims of a devastating landslide that occurred the week before on June 18th. The disaster, near Po Shan Road..., resulted in sixty seven fatalities, twenty serious injuries and two buildings completely destroyed. This was the result of unstable ground on a hillside following Typhoon Rose eleven months prior to the fatal incident.

The show, which featured many of HK's celebrities of the time (including Bruce Lee doing demonstrations with the help of a 7 year old Brandon) went on to raise more than $8.5M for the relief fund.

i remember it rained heavily for about a week - we had major leaks in our flat a 1920s jerry build with buckets dotted all over the place to collect the drops.  in our day the tragedy in the photo was referred to as the 'kotewall road disaster' - made all the more poignant since several school mates lived in the vicinity.  more lives were lost too in kowloon in a shanty town but that seems less documented (less spectacular?) .  spurred on as a direct result of this, one of my friends went on to study geology at uni and became a certified engineer with specialisation in this area of expertise :-)  unfortunately stayed in the uk!

vanessa

  These heavy rains were also partly responsible for the collapse of the Thorpe Manor property forecourt/parking area. This delayed the construction of the existing high rise [ 1 May Road], for a number of years.

I am one of the survivors of the horrific accident that has taken the lives of my loved ones.  Thanks for the animation, I now have a better idea of what happened that night when I lost my whole family (My parents, my brother and 4 sisters)

I recenly recovered the negatives of the photos I took of the landslide scene. I remember very vividly that evening and when the landslide occured. A lound noise, followed by lost of electricity. Emergency vehicles arrived minutes later. We were living in Lyttelton Road, just a block from the scene. Alll we saw was mudy water running down from Kotewall Road. The high-rise residential block at No.12 Kotewall Road vanished. A few days later we too had to evacuate from our flat at Lyttelton Road as there was considerable danger of further landslide.

Link to the album of photos at Flickr:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/38679411@N07/sets/72157629112220313/

I do remember this period very well too. I was living at Mansfield Road Government flats- and we were completely cut-off by a massive land-slide which was just above the junction of Peak Road and Magazine Gap Road, just higher than the Barker Road turn off.

All sources of power and gas were swept away! We could only go 'up' the Peak. I spent a day helping some prisoners who had been drafted in to fill sand-bags to try to prevent another hillside from collapsing - just above the petrol station on the right hand side. There was a huge hillside that looked like it might collapse!

After about 3 days 'trapped' in our flat, and seemingly running out of basic supplies, my father announced that he and I were going to embark on a hike into Central! (I think he had cabin fever?) We walked and waded down Magazine Road, past and through 3 or 4 completely collapsed sections of hillside until we reached Central. At some areas we waded through hip deep mud! 

It had stopped raining by this time - by there was carnage in Central - water lying everywhere. I recall seeing cars piled up somewhere? We bought some basic supplies, bread, tinned food etc and began our hike home. We walked back up the Old Peak Road, past the LRC onto Barker Road. My father told me that Old Peak Road was originally built for sedan chairs, and it was in great shape, no debris and no damage from the rains visible.

As we arrived at the top of Guildford Road, before descending to Mansfield Road my father and I saw a helicopter dropping supplies onto the playground where we lived!!! It was an adventure I shall never forget!  

The other horrific landslide was at Kai Liu (Chicken Shanty Town) in Kwun Tong.  The whole shanty town was buried by mud.  Many people were killed and injured.  A policeman who arrived at the scene told me that when the patrol car arrived, they could not find the village because it was under the mud.  I remember photos of corpses half-buried, including one of a baby which left indelible impression on my mind.  I remember someone lamented that the desaster hit the rich as well as the poor at the same time.  

I was living at No.30 Severn Road when The Peak was cut off.  I went with my brothers & the driver to help clear the landslide along The Peak Road where residents and some prisoners were already hard at work.  The Deputy CS, Hamilton, was made Officer Administrating the Government on The Peak.  He and his team set up local government at The Peak School. My brother & I were assigned with a desk registering children needing education (or more likely parents concerned about exams!)  There was radio communications with CGO.  The amount of gasolene at the stations above Mansfield Road Apartments were counted.  RAF helicopters delivered supplies at Mansfield Rd as well as the Peak Tram parking lot.  Then Army landrovers came up from Pokfulam Reservoir road with supplies.  A newspaperman delivered a stack walking up Magazine Gap Road and received a round of applause & cheers from the residents when he made it to Barker Road junction.  

Soon, a temproary diversion road was dugged behing the garage of the house of the former Chinese Meritime Custom opposite the US Consul General's residence at Barker Rd.  Back to school again too soon!  

That link to the CEDD website doesn't seem to work any more. However, this (YouTube) one includes the same information:

I was a serving police inspector living with my wife in Park Road Married Quarters on Sunday 18 June 1972. I was at home off duty and watching the Two Ronnies on TV with my wife, pregnant with our first daughter.

We heard a tremendous noise from up the hill and I called the Upper levels police station who told me that a landslide had occurred. I grabbed my boots, a torch and an anorak and drove and then ran up the hill into Kotewall Road which was blocked near the top by a huge wall of mud.

Police and fire services were present and I reported to a senior fireman and offered assistance which was accepted. Mud and water were still coming down the hill from Conduit and Po Shan Roads but some firemen and I rescued a couple of people near the top of the landslide and rubble heading downhill into Babington Path.

Then we climbed down a rope and searched the rubble. There was a strong smell of gas I recall. Then I heard a feint voice calling out in English, "Help me, I'm dying". I searched and found a hand waving from under some rubble. After 3 hours or so of digging with hands and small implements (anything larger would have brought the whole lot down on us) we exposed an 11 year old English/Dutch boy's arm, head, upper body and then finally slid him free. He was saved by a book case between him and the collapsed concrete ceiling.

I struggled up the rubble with him and handed him on and he spent several weeks in QMH on dialysis but recovered and is now happily married in Canada. Sadly, his mother and brother were killed and his dog was never found.

This incident was caused by corruption. Officials in PWD were paid off by the developers of a building site on Conduit Road to lose a file showing an earth cutting face so that they could lie and claim that there was a rock cutting face at the back of the site. This allowed them to cut back at a far steeper angle to provide more parking spaces and avoid having to put them in the building.

The Commission of Enquiry (report on the Rainstorm Disasters 1972) makes interesting reading. The key Authorised Architect suspect skipped to Singapore and nobody was ever charged with any offence. This individual seems to have redeemed himself, however. He has designed temporary bamboo housing for refugees from disaster and famine. Since then, the HK Government has made a huge effort to ensure that nothing like this ever happens again.

Kotewall Road Landslide 1972

thanks for sharing Guy. Can I ask if that is you in the shorts?

Thanks Guy, that's a remarkable story and photo.

Regards, David

My friend, the late Mr Leung Shiu Kay was another hero in the Kotewall Road Disaster in 1972.   He saved the lives of many, including that of Mr Henry Litton in the rescue.  He was awarded the "George Medal" by the Governor.  Mr Leung is well remembered by staff in FSD.

Another hero in Kotewell Road disaster 1972

http://www.cedd.gov.hk/eng/publications/geo_reports/doc/er229/er229links...

 

Indeed an interesting read - one of the architects involved at one point was the architect for the development of some of the land at 三育中學 in the early 90s.  Small world.

 

-關白禮.


Yes, a much younger me. Note the fireman I was with; he took his boots off to get more grip in the mud...

Hi there,

I have been told those boots are very heavy.  One of my schoolmates (who is a Fire Inspector now) once mentioned they weigh 30 lbs.  I have forgotten if a pair of them weighs 30 lbs or if it was for a single one.  The weight owes very much to the streel toe cap and sole protection.

New recruits would be required to wear these boots and jog around the playground in their Kam Tin training school and not everyone could do that in the first go.

Thanks & Best Regards,

T

This an email I sent to DFS in 2009:

Dear Mr Lo,

I had occasion during some research at the Public Records Office to access the last list of Honours and Decorations conferred on HK Residents dated 1 July 1996.

It will no doubt surprise and concern you to know that two of your officers who won awards for the Po Shan/Kotewall Road Landslide Disaster of 18 June 1972 are not listed:

Station Officer LEUNG Shiu-kay G.M. and
Divisional Officer A.S. Conway C.P.M. for Gallantry

There may well be others.....
I attach relevant documents.

You might also be of the same view as myself that, as gallantry awards are totally apolitical, (given for service to the people of HK and not for government service), awards made under the previous administration should also be listed in the current list and placed on the government website with awards made by the current administration.

Henry Ching mentioned that the Peak Road landslide mentioned by Bails and Lawrence Tsui above may have happened in an earlier rainstorm. I found a description of a landslide in 1966 that seems to match (see http://gwulo.com/node/18450). Does that sound like the right year?

Regards, David

Government House, 1973

If the person writing as a survivor who lost both parents and 5 siblings in Sau Mau Ping, if you can bear to read it, the report and list of casualties is in the Interim Report of the Commission of Inquiry published in August 1972. I am so sorry for your terrible loss and that of everyone else who lost loved ones that awful day.

guyshirra,

Thank you for posting the photo in qwulo.  I recognize that Mr Leung was sitting next to the right hand side of HE the Governor.   Is the man sitting at the far right hand side of the photo the same Fire Officer who was holding the boy in your previous photo?   Correct me if I am wrong.   I trust you are also present in the photo.

regards/Edmond

Indeed the Peak Road landslides near Manfields Rd happened in 1966, not 1972.  I got confused.  

Which was the one when the section of Peak Road where Bradbury School now stands, near King Yin Lei, was washed off?  That was the one when Mr. C.K. Law, Assistant Director of Education, and his sons perished at Victoria Height. 

Peak Road used to run along a bend behind today's Bradbury School, the site of which was created after the landslide and that section of Peak Road straightened.

Murray MacLehose wispered in my ear somthing like "Join me for a photograph on the lawn after all these other b*****s have gone home." Conway and Moran and others are absent but I think the names are as follows: front row L-R DO CHEUNG Shui-shing?, Terry Berrecloth, HE, Prouse?, PF NG Kam-hung?, SO TSUI Hin-kwing? Back row L_R myself and two firemen. My wife and daughter are watching from the balcony...

Thanks for sharing such an incredible story.  The animation of CEDD is absolutely mind-boggling... and gut-wrenching.

A subscriber, who wishes to remain anonymous, writes to "add my own words of appreciation":

I too am a survivor of the Kotewall Road landslide 1972.

I shall never forget the size of the rain drops that Sunday evening. The rainfall that weekend was extraordinary but it was the size of the drops that I recall-they were huge. 

I came out of a 10th floor flat and landed just about on the top of the pile. I am alive today only by reason of the courage of the Fire Services officers who released me from the debris trapping me and the skills of the staff at Queen Mary Hospital where I was an in-patient 3 months. 

18th June 1972, the anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo. 

IDJ has uploaded a couple of photos of this area in the early 1960s:

Kotewall Road-1961
Conduit Road-1962

The three-storey building on the right of the lower photo, 53 Conduit Road, is shown in the colour photo at the top of this page, just to the right of the landslip.

The old building to the left of number 53 in this 1960s photo was demolished sometime before the 1972 landslide. In the animation of events in 1972, the site of this old building is described as a building site. It's where the sheet piling is shown distorting over time and eventally collapsing.

IDJ notes that even in this 1960s photo there looks to be a small landslide behind the old building.

The boy in the picture is Neil (or Nils) McDonald.  He and his brother Casper used to come down to our block of flats at 84 Robinson Road (just at the top of Oaklands Avenue which ran into Kotewall Road) to play though we didn't know them THAT well.

My bedroom window looked directly up Kotewall Road. I was lying in bed listening to music and heard this almighty sound - like thunder, but it went on too long to actually BE thunder. Got up and looked out the window, but saw nothing, until I saw a sea of mud rushing down the road. I ran through and told my folks, and we all went downstairs. Our caretaker was comforting some european guy who appeared to be wearing nothing but his underwear and covered in mud.

The Irish Guards that were sent in to dig out survivors/bodies were stationed in our block of flats as it was one of the nearest buildings considered safe. We would take down beers and tea, and would get mars bars in return from the NAAFI van. They taught us a few gambling games too. It was sad and exciting at the same time for a young 13 year old. The scars of Typhoon Rose can still be seen on that hill today.

Well deserved Guy.  I recognise a Facebook friend of mine (Terence Berecolth) front row second from left.  Will pinch this to post on his wall if ok with you.  What was his role?

Tom

Very late response to Tom. The rescued boy in the picture is Jules McNeil who survived and after weeks in QMH went to British Columbia to join his father and step-brothers and sisters. His younger brother Caspar and his mother Annemaria were killed in the landslide. For a fuller account of this tragedy, read "The Accidental Prawn", available in Bookazine and on Kindle. Thank you for pointing out that Terry Berrecloth is on Facebook. He was a friend of Annemaria's and rushed to the scene as well. He assisted in the rescue at the bottom of the landslide and was awarded a Queen's Commendation for Brave Conduct for his actions. We both gave evidence at the Commission of Enquiry before TL Yang who later became Chief Justice.

Hello Guy, thanks for your record of this event and the photos. I was a school mate of Jules McNeil (the boy being carried by a fireman in the photo) and Caspar - we were all at Glenealy Junior School on Kennedy Road at the time of this tragic event. I reckon Jules was just completing his Junior schooling, so was a year older than me and Caspar a year or two younger. This would make Jules 10 at the time, known for his BIG flop of blond hair (visible in the photo). As fortune had it his father was away in Canada on business. So it was Jules, his younger brother Caspar and mother Annemaria who were tragically caught up in the landslide at Kotewall Court on 18th June 1972.

Both Jules and Caspar were very popular and much loved by class mates, teachers and those who knew the family. They were the nicest, happiest people you could ever meet.

I lived with my parents on University Drive, just a short distance from the landslide location. Although my personal memories of this event are raw, even to this day, I have vivid memories of the night. As others have said, there was a dreadful rumbling noise. I leapt out onto our balcony overlooking the Harbour - as many curious youngsters, with no sense of fear are inclined to do. Apart from the rumble, strong winds and lashing rain, the usual noise of vehicles and human activity were remarkably absent. I looked to my right in the direction of this awful crescendo - at the time not really knowing what I was hearing or seeing - the electric lights had gone out following the power cut so it was total darkness with some light reflected from the storm clouds above. Days later I realised the dark silhouette I saw moving on the horizon between the remaining fixed buildings will have been the top floors of Kotewall Court collapsing. This image haunts me to this day.

By today's standards the tragic news was slow to come out – long before mobile phones and social media! With the closure of Conduit and Kotewall Roads we had no road access for weeks. Being the end of school term meant this was not a major inconvenience for a 9 year old – Hong Kong’s Government and construction industry soon had the Conduit Road re-opened. The affected slope remained undeveloped for years – the reinforced grass embankments constructed on either side of Kotewall Road became an understated and unmarked memorial to the tragic loss of life there.

I knew Jules spent 3 months in Queen Mary’s on life support and dialysis, recovering from his injuries. As soon as he was able, his father took Jules away; back to family in Canada to rebuild their lives. An escape from what will have been very raw and emotional memories for a young boy only familiar with love and happy days with his Dad, Mum and Caspar. I’m so glad Jules went on to make a good physical recovery and I hope he enjoys a happy family life in Canada today.  He’s one of life’s good guys. I remember him and his younger brother Caspar as bright lights - one so sadly snuffed out before living to realise his potential.

We also had friends living in Po Shan Mansions at the time – their Mum was a doctor at the University Health Centre. They had to vacate when the first signs of this landslide were reported (it was several hours before the worst took place lower down the hillside). They moved into a temporarily vacant University residence. Eventually they moved to an apartment in our block on University Drive – no doubt the decision not to return to Po Shan Mansions was heavily influenced by this terrible landslide.

Kotewall Road has had a lasting impact on many people who survived and witnessed this man-made tragedy. The 67 precious lives lost are not forgotten - many were children.

Hi Simon.

A eye-opening account on our shared experience.  I was at Island School by this time, so only knew the boys from their occasional visits to our flats to play.  I think I know your sister Belinda.  I was 75 Rutherford - you are 79R.  Looking forward to seeing her in a few weeks at our reunion in Gloucester.  You should try and get along if you are in the UK.

All the best.

Tom

Thank you for your detailed and informative post. My contact with Jules since the disaster has ben intermittent but I can forward your post to him via another friend who survived the disaster if you like? GuyShirra@gmail.com if you wish to correspond directly with me.

Hi Tom.

Bruce Berrecloth here.  I found this site by chance.  Dad's in Aus these days Im note sure if you are in touch with him. 

Best regards

Bruce

Hi Bruce.

Yes, your dad and I are friends on Facebook and we've chatted.  So so sorry to hear about Karen.  She was just a sweetie and I loved working with her at CGO. we had such a laugh.

Tom

Hi Tom.  

Thanks for your reply. Hard to believe we lost Karen so young. 

This is an amazing little website of Hong Kong history. Take care and have a good year ahead.

  B