CNY disrupted by weekend blazes; HDB residents hope repairs will be completed soon

Mr Samuel Seah cleaning a wall in his flat in Telok Blangah, which is covered in soot after a blaze in the unit two floors below his. ST PHOTOS: GAVIN FOO

SINGAPORE - Pineapple tarts and other Chinese New Year goodies sit untouched in Mr Samuel Seah's blackened living room as he watches television.

A layer of soot covers the walls and ceiling of the five-room flat in Telok Blangah Rise, and a burning smell lingers in the air.

The damage to the flat Mr Seah shares with his wife was caused by a blaze in the unit two floors below his at Block 39 Telok Blangah Rise five days ago.

"I couldn't bear to have some of my friends and family see the place like this. It's so ugly," Mr Seah's wife, Madam Jeanie Tan, told The Straits Times (ST) on Thursday (Feb 3).

She added that her family was unharmed and only her washing machine and windows were broken.

"Every time I wipe, everything turns black again and it still smells of smoke," Madam Tan said in Mandarin.

The couple, both aged 62, are vegetable suppliers.

The fire on Jan 29 killed a woman and caused about 280 people to evacuate from the block. The Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) were alerted at about 4.40am.

The fire was put out within an hour.

A 73-year-old man who is said to have been living in the 10th-floor unit where the fire started has been arrested.

When ST went to the affected unit, a man who said he was from the town council arrived with a large bin and went into the flat to clear the debris.

The unit at Block 39 Telok Blangah Rise where the fire started, pictured from outside on Feb 3, 2022. ST PHOTO: GAVIN FOO

Madam Tan told ST she woke up at about 4.30am that day, looked out the window, and saw a lot of black smoke coming from the 10th floor. There was smoke in her flat too.

"The black smoke was so thick (inside her flat) that I couldn't see where I was going," she said.

Her neighbours a few storeys below have a different set of challenges - water dripping from walls and ceilings that has not stopped over the past five days.

Mr Winston Tan, 63, a retired site supervisor in construction, told ST he was woken up on Jan 29 morning by the sound of cracking coming from the ceiling and a commotion from outside.

His brother, Mr Wilson Tan, 64, who does not live in Telok Blangah Rise, said HDB has inspected his family's flat and told them it is safe to live in, but the family decided against moving their elderly mother back before repairs are complete.

Mr Winston Tan placing pails on his brother's bed to catch the water that has been dripping from the ceiling. ST PHOTO: GAVIN FOO

The family have been approached by People's Association to apply for a home repair grant and hope this will be approved soon.

"We were preparing for Chinese New Year, and this whole thing unfortunately happened and threw everything out of tangent," said Mr Wilson Tan, who is a retired logistician in construction.

The brothers told ST that neighbours helped to carry their wheelchair-bound 87-year-old mother down the stairs.

"This incident also brought the residents closer together. That was a good thing. Everyone was caring for one another and showing concern," said Mr Wilson Tan.

Radin Mas MP Melvin Yong told ST that both the Housing Board (HDB) and Tanjong Pagar Town Council are in touch with affected households.

The town council has cleared the common areas of debris, got painters to repaint the walls and common corridors, as well as electricians to do basic repairs. It is planning to repaint and wash the external walls of the block by the end of next week.

"The town council is working closely with HDB to assist residents who may require additional help, such as those who do not have fire or home protection insurance," said Mr Yong.

A few hours earlier in Tampines, a separate blaze engulfed a 10th-storey unit in Block 941 Tampines Avenue 5 on Jan 28 at about 10.30pm.

A woman who wished to be known only as Ms Lim, 41, was playing video games with her headphones on when the next-door unit went ablaze. Only the loud shouts of neighbours from the opposite block alerted her to what was going on.

"At first, I heard popping sounds but thought nothing of it. I stopped to listen harder and I heard neighbours shouting 'fire, fire' from the opposite block," said Ms Lim, who is self-employed.

She quickly woke up her sleeping parents, picked up her dog and made their way downstairs with her sister.

About 180 residents were evacuated. A man, believed to be in his 60s, was found unconscious in a bedroom on the first level of the burning flat. He was rescued by SCDF firefighters.

Ms Lim moved in three years ago when her next-door neighbours were already living there.

"We'd say 'hi' to each other and our dogs would play together in the corridor, but we are not close," she added.

They were allowed to return home around 1.30am on Saturday morning, and found that the walls and Ms Lim's bed were hot to the touch. There was no visible damage.

The unit at Block 941 Tampines Avenue 5 where the fire broke out, pictured on Jan 3, 2022. ST PHOTO: FELINE LIM

Meanwhile, a student who lives above the affected unit and wanted to be known only as Mr Ong, 24, was also alerted to the fire by the yelling from the opposite block.

"I smelled something burning and thought it was an incense bin downstairs. The smoke was not obvious at that point," he said.

"When I heard the shouts, I told my mum, and we grabbed our wallets, phones and headed for the stairs. By then, the smoke was quite thick but we were still able to breathe."

When Mr Ong returned home around 1am, the entire home was covered in soot as they did not close one of their windows when they evacuated.

"Luckily there isn't much damage, just some plumbing got affected."

As for Ms Lim, her Chinese New Year was disrupted by several strangers who went to see the affected unit.

"I hope people stop coming, but I'm thankful we aren't hurt. I've learnt to appreciate those around me more," she said.

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