Kuala Lumpur is a city of malls. They are plentiful, huge and really quite amazing with indoor skating rinks, rollerblading venues, theme and water parks and karioke studios. There is even one with a seven story rollercoaster. Empire Shopping Gallery is the newest one in our little suburb, celebrating the one year anniversary this month.  Along with five levels of shopping and eating venues, it houses a hotel, business tower and residential unit, gymnasium and pool and is marketed as the place to live, work, play, shop, dine and wine all under one roof. Some of our staff live there.

Two days ago the entire region felt the effects of a massive gas explosion that occurred on the ground floor of this mall at about 3 in the morning.  The effects of the explosion reached both ends ofthe mall, and all five levels recorded  some degree of damage. As well, it  tore into the adjoining office block and studio apartments with windows as high up as the eighth floor of the 12-storey office tower  shattered. Friends in their apartment two kilometers away were awoken by the noise of the explosion.

About 300 people were rescued and evacuated; including some 170 hotel guests who were relocated to nearby hotels, but amazingly only four people were injured and none seriously. The entire structure is now closed and all operations have been halted pending the results of the forensic investigations and structural assessments in the interest of public safety.

There is much speculation about the level of workmanship in the construction of this complex but no official report has yet been released and the news this morning reports that the mall will reopen in thirty days. For the small business owners of the 180 outlets there and the hundreds of people employed many at a wage of about 8 ringgit an hour (less than $3.00) this is a huge loss of income.

It was very fortunate that this happened at 3 a.m. instead of mid evening when the stores and restaurants would have been packed with hundreds of people.  However, it will be a long time before staff and customers have any confidence about the safety of the building.  On the plus side, I parked the following day in the underground parking of the mall across the street and watched inspectors carefully examining the gas lines running in the ceilings of the adjacent buildings.  Maintenance and inspection are ongoing issues in Asian countries that often suffer from semi-official corruption on several levels. Perhaps this explosion may spark some changes so that maybe one day, maintenance will become a reality here in Malaysia.

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