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The gnawing, cracking sound of bulging plywood was heard by the singers at the Universal Neptune Night-Club and Restaurant in Singapore's Hotel new World, situated at Little India. The noise was an unfamiliar one which was soon dismissed by the singers once it was muffled by the music. It was only the first in a series of subtle hints that might have possibly prevented the tragic disaster.

Other odd events followed the very next day. The fateful morning of 15 March, 1986, began with passers-by noticing cracks on the outside of the hotel building and also inside on a third-floor wall. A customer at the Industrial and Commercial bank located at the building's ground floor told two young clerks that there were several cracks on a column in the basement parking lot. As in the previous night, however, these signs were also ignored until they could be no longer ignored.

The hotel building soon began to tremble violently. For no apparent reason, there was a loud crack and at 11.26 a.m., the unthinkable happened. Singapore is not a country that is prone to natural or man-made disasters since independence. There are no earthquakes, explosions or tornados to cause terrible damage. yet, the six-storey hotel collapsed in less than one minute. Solid concrete columns snapped into two and fragments were flung from walls. The noise was deafening as floors gave way and then piled up upon rubble and a growing number of bodies.

Singaporeans going about their lives on the higher floors of the hotel were more fortunate than others. Chambermaid, Tan Siew Bee, for instance, found herself sinking down on her coffee-break in the staffroom on the fifth-floor of the hotel. When the hotel collapsed, this floor was reduced to street level and she and her colleague were able to scramble to safety relatively unscathed. Those on the ground floor, however, were the hardest hit. Mr Lim, a customer at the bank, had been coming through the front door when parts of the ceiling rained down on him. The floor broke open and he found himself falling forward, only to be trapped as his right foot caught against something. Hanging upside down, Mr Lim began to scream for help. His shouts were joined by several others, including those of bank clerk, Suresh Balan, and security guard, Zainal Ali, who were lying side by side beneath the crushing weight of walls and ceilings. While some held on to their strength to scream for help, other simply could not take the pressure and soon gave in to what they thought was inevitable.

To most people, the most shocking part of the tragedy was that it could happen in Singapore. Singapore is a very unlikely spot for hotel collapses. As Dennis Jacobs, an American engineer who was temporarily residing here, put it, "In Singapore, buildings don't fall over. They go up." Indeed, many of us have grown accustomed to seeing trees chopped down to make way for skyscrapers and office blocks. That morning, however, Singaporeans were forced to come to terms with something that very few would have expected or anticipated. The sight of one of our very own buildings lying completely destroyed unnerved many, but from the tragedy, Singaporeans shared community spirit as hundreds of volunteers came forward to help total strangers who were buried deep within the piles of rubble.

A Commission of Inquiry was soon set up. The findings included the building's grossly inadequate structure and sloppy construction work. The main cause for concern, however, was the fact that many people persistently ignored the warning signs that were lurking all around them.

Answer the following questions using complete sentences
  1. Give two reasons why the singers did not alert anyone about the noise.
  2. Describe the hints in the 'series of subtle hints' (paragraph 1).
  3. Explain why the signs 'could be no longer ignored' according to paragraph 2.
  4. Why was the disaster unthinkable for Singaporeans ?
  5. Explain fully why those on the fifth and sixth floors were more fortunate.
  6. '... what they thought was inevitable.' (paragraph 4) Explain what the writer meant by these words.
  7. Give a phrasal verb in paragraph4 that has the same meaning as 'succumbed'.
  8. According to paragraph 5, explain clearly hat Dennis Jacobs meant by 'they go up'.
  9. How did Singaporeans react to the tragedy ?
  10. Why was the Commission of Inquiry set up ?
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Firstly, they could not identify the sound and secondly, they dismissed it when the sound was muffled by the music.


The first was the gnawing, cracking sound of bulging plywood. The others were the cracks on the outside of the hotel building and column in the basement parking lot.


The very next morning, the building began to tremble violently and a loud crack was heard.


Singapore is not prone to natural or man-made disasters that can cause terrible damage, so the collapse of the hotel was unthinkable.


When the building collapsed, the fifth floor was reduced to street level, so the people on these floors were not pinned under like those on the lower floors.
  6. Some people caught under the rubble thought that they would surely die.
  7. It is 'gave in'.
  8. He meant that the construction of buildings in Singapore was a common sight.
  9. Many were frightened by it but there were also hundreds who came to help total strangers buried deep within the rubble.
  10. It was set up to find out why Hotel New World had collapsed. / It was set up to find out the reasons for the collapse of Hotel New World.

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Comprehension 1


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