Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Where part truth does not equal to the whole truth.

There is little doubt the 38m lightning arrestor weighing some 100 metric tonnes did fall off from the top of the 21-storey Menara UMNO building on 13 June 2013; crashing onto the ground at a speed of 130kph. Anyone with secondary school physics should be able to calculate that. We do not need an engineering expert or a professional architect from Singapore to tell us that.

But honestly, did the 100 odd tonne lighting arrestor hit the car Lim Chin Aik was driving, spot on to “pulverise anything that came into contact with it” as asserted by the 35-year old Singapore-based architect Clifford Tan?

He further asserted that “The debris which spiralled downwards would have generated high velocity when plunging, he said in a telephone interview from Singapore.”

If I correctly remember my secondary school physics and evidence of meteor craters or any craters caused by explosive forces, the debris on impact would have sputtered upwards and radially away from the impact point. He must have been studying a different kind of physics to hypothesise that the impact debris would continue to spiral downwards to generate even higher velocity when plunging.

If he was talking about the falling debris accelerating at g=9.8 m/s2 (which he had already stated at 130kph), the 100 odd tonne mass could have flattened the car on direct impact but certainly not “pulverise anything that came into contact with it” as in Star Wars type of weaponry. Surely Clifford Tan must have read about the recent high speed accidents in Singapore involving high performance cars. At 130 kph, we certainly have highly dented wrecks, smashed up bits and pieces but hardly anything is pulverised even at twice that speed.

Come on. We might be a third world country but we are certainly no ignorant fools to believe such bullshit. Yet we have our nation's STAR pressitude devoting a full page article based on a professional Singaporean's fantasies. Surely there must be some science professors or local engineers these 5 reporters (OH CHIN ENG, CHRISTOPHER TAN, CAVINA LIM, KIATISAK CHUA and TAN SIN CHOW ) could refer to? Having worked in Singapore before, I can attest their geotechnical engineering knowledge is no better than ours. Or is foreign always better than local expertise? Or is the “kiasu” mentality in action?

Surely the journalists on site would have disputed Clifford Tan's “educated observation” quoted below.

“I estimated that the wing wall fell from an estimated height of 70m and would cause anything it hit to be crushed to bits,” Tan said. Tan stressed that he was not speculating about the collapse but merely offering an educated observation on why the car was smashed to pieces.

You can see from the following pictures (published by The Star) how accurate Clifford Tan's educated observations & The Star's illustration were.

The above pictures clearly show that most of the lightning arrestor lay above ground and did not directly “impact and bore” a crater as depicted by The Star's illustration. There are broken and dented pieces but certainly not “pulverised” in the true sense of the word. The major impact probably came from the concrete beam but was the impact sufficient to create a crater >6m deep > 5m in diameter?

Far from being solely an “impact crater” as implied by Clifford Tan and The Star; the 6m deep crater which Lim's car had “sunk” into was a cave-in (collapsed) crater, a consequence of both deep impact and existing underground weaknesses like erosion voids beneath the road foundation. The volume of upheaval mass did not equal the volume of the observed crater.

There are significant differences. An impact crater on solid ground would have the typical bulge (upheaval) at the peripheral of the crater (as in a meteor crater) and have the impact debris thrown all around it. Remember the Conservation of Mass law?

In fact all the evidence point to an additional cave-in collapse of an existing undetected below the road foundation void (underground cavity). Underground cavities ranging from a few inches to a few metres, can remain undetected on the surface due to the “arching effect” of the overlying supporting 'roof layer”.

Knowing Penang so well, there are probably a lot more cavities caused by underground erosion. That explains the “missing masses” in sudden cave-ins or collapsed sink holes. Macalister road is one of the oldest road in Penang and was already “warping” here and there when I was a boy cycling to school. The layers of bitumen and road foundation added through the years helped to strengthen the “roof support” and kept the road from caving-in until the forceful impact of the falling concrete beams and lightning arrestor.

Just like an arch bridge, the point of impact (induced force) may not directly be the centre of the collapse. The underground (beneath the road) cavity may not be circular but elongated.

The fact remains that there had been inherent weaknesses (faults) in the UMNO building and erosion voids (cavities) beneath the old Macalister road. The freak storm exposed those weaknesses. The freak storm (although powerful) cannot be compared to the likes of hurricanes and tornadoes in the Tropical regions. While there were blown roofs (private dwellings) no concrete buildings built to professional standards collapsed other than the UMNO building. Was The Star's report spun to divert attention from this obvious conclusion?

How did this bullshit-type of reporting escape the attention of the STAR editors? Were they equally ignorant or too busy politicking with the Powers-That-Be for the next honorific title? Like most Penangites, The Star used to be the newspaper to read. Not any more; as you can judge for yourself how much the standard had fallen.