Rebuilding lives after Jurong West market fire

Madam Haw Mui Eng, 47, who started 493 Fishball Noodles with her husband in 2006, is worried that her family's savings will be wiped out soon.
Madam Haw Mui Eng, 47, who started 493 Fishball Noodles with her husband in 2006, is worried that her family's savings will be wiped out soon. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI
A fire engulfed a wet market and coffee shop at Block 493 in Jurong West on Oct 11, razing the building to the ground. Fifty-one stallholders have been affected by the incident.
A fire engulfed a wet market and coffee shop at Block 493 in Jurong West on Oct 11, razing the building to the ground. Fifty-one stallholders have been affected by the incident.ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG
Siblings Trinity Ong, 10, Noah, 8, and Casper, 5, handing over a carefully decorated envelope containing $500 - most of the money from their piggy banks - to Mr Neo Chwee Eng, 81, a yong tau foo seller whose stall was destroyed in a fire.
Siblings Trinity Ong, 10, Noah, 8, and Casper, 5, handing over a carefully decorated envelope containing $500 - most of the money from their piggy banks - to Mr Neo Chwee Eng, 81, a yong tau foo seller whose stall was destroyed in a fire. ST PHOTO: OH XING YEE
Stallowners were allowed to view the damage to the market at Blk 493 Jurong West St 41, for the first time after it was destroyed in the fire on Oct 11.
Stallowners were allowed to view the damage to the market at Blk 493 Jurong West St 41, for the first time after it was destroyed in the fire on Oct 11. ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG
Stallowners were allowed to view the damage to the market at Blk 493 Jurong West St 41, for the first time after it was destroyed in the fire on Oct 11.
Stallowners were allowed to view the damage to the market at Blk 493 Jurong West St 41, for the first time after it was destroyed in the fire on Oct 11. ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG

It took stallholders years, and in some cases decades, to build up their businesses from scratch at Block 493, Jurong West Street 41.

Some served delicious hawker fare while others provided residents with essential items. But in the early hours of Oct 11, their lives took a drastic turn after flames engulfed the wet market and coffee shop, razing the building to the ground. Now, only skeletal stall fronts and a collapsed roof remain. The blaze also damaged an adjacent coffee shop at Block 494, with witnesses reporting as many as three explosions and a fire that rose up to two storeys high.

About 300 residents evacuated the neighbouring blocks in one of Singapore's worst fires in recent years. A 41-year-old man was charged with committing mischief by fire on Oct 15. Lim Ying Siang allegedly set fire to styrofoam boxes at the market at about 3am on Oct 11.

Demolition work on Block 493 started last Wednesday and it is expected to take about three weeks.

In the days following the incident, Jurong GRC MP Ang Wei Neng and various agencies stepped in to help the 51 affected stallholders, such as by giving them an emergency relief fund of $500 each. A temporary market will be ready before Chinese New Year, although rebuilding a new permanent market is expected to take more than a year. Two weeks on, while some stallholders have started exploring options to restart their businesses, others have found it hard to move on due to their age or lack of savings. 

We speak to three who have been affected. 


Stall is gone but she visits site every day


Madam Haw Mui Eng being consoled in the aftermath of the fire that destroyed the coffee shop her stall was in. PHOTO: THE NEW PAPER

Almost every day for the last decade, Madam Haw Mui Eng, has woken at about 5am to travel by bus to the coffee shop at Block 493, where she sold up to 500 bowls of fishball noodles until the afternoon.

When the 47-year-old started 493 Fishball Noodles with her husband in 2006, she wanted to make use of the skills she picked up as a hawker assistant to provide for her two sons, now aged 21 and 23.

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Distraught family determined to reopen stall nearby


Mr Soh Chun Wee (right) is proud that his father, Mr Soh Chin Soon's (left) Western food stall has helped to put him and his younger brother through university. PHOTO: DIOS VINCOY JR FOR THE SUNDAY TIMES

When he was a teenager, Mr Soh Chun Wee ate chicken chop almost every day for several weeks as his dad tried to perfect the recipe.

Twelve years ago, his father, Mr Soh Chin Soon, had just started running his halal Western food stall at the Block 493 coffee shop in Jurong West Street 41.

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Getting by on wages at supermarket

Madam Teo Ai Yoke was working the midnight shift at a supermarket at Block 491, Jurong West Street 41 when she heard a commotion outside.

Rushing out, the 65-year-old's heart sank upon seeing the coffee shop and wet market at Block 493 in flames.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on October 23, 2016, with the headline 'Rebuilding lives after fire'. Print Edition | Subscribe