Workers at Jem shops rush to save goods

No word on when mall will reopen after accident caused by burst pipe

FairPrice was also transferring its perishable items to another outlet. -- ST PHOTO: JESSICA LIM
FairPrice was also transferring its perishable items to another outlet. -- ST PHOTO: JESSICA LIM
Mr Chung Kuan (above, centre), who works at Peony Jade Restaurant’s booth in Jem’s basement, and two other employees carrying out boxes of mooncakes to be sold at its Takashimaya outlet instead. -- ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG
Staff of Jem mall’s tenants queueing up to register their names before they were allowed to enter the building to retrieve their valuables yesterday. -- ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

It is known as the crown jewel of the west.

But Jem mall has lost its dazzle following a ceiling collapse - with shop workers scrambling to save perishable goods such as food, and even pet chinchillas.

About 50 employees formed a snaking queue yesterday after a registration booth was set up outside the shopping centre. Barriers were erected on the perimeter and security guards kept watch at shuttered entrances. The mall was closed yesterday and it is not known when it will reopen.

Mr Chung Kuan, who works at Peony Jade Restaurant's mooncake booth in the basement, was perspiring as he carted 20 boxes of mooncakes out of the mall. They were loaded into a van and driven to the chain's Takashimaya outlet.

"We were given only 10 minutes to move all our things," said the 20-year-old. "Most tenants are rushing to clear things."

Miss Kaushalia Kathiravan, who works at Pet Lovers Centre, was escorted into the mall by security guards as she rescued a rabbit, a guinea pig, two chinchillas and 10 hamsters.

"We are not sure how long Jem will be closed and we need to feed them," said the 18-year-old. She added that the pets will be taken to another outlet in JCube.

Meanwhile, FairPrice employees were loading cartons of bananas onto a truck. Part-time sales associate Christy Lin, 18, was told to go home after turning up for work at Accessorize. "That means I don't get paid," she said.

Mr Jimmy Fong, chief executive of Apple reseller chain Epicentre, said: "Business will definitely be affected. Apple's new iPhone 5 is launching tomorrow but the shops will be closed."

Wednesday's accident was caused by a burst water pipe. Experts said this problem was "uncommon", and could be due to factors such as poor workmanship when the pipe joints were fixed together and high water pressure.

"So far, this is the first time I have heard of a pipe bursting like this," said Woh Hup Workplace Safety, Health and Environmental manager Don Wilson Paua. "It is likely that a joint in the pipe gave way, causing it to burst."

Mr Chong Kee Sen, deputy president of The Institution of Engineers Singapore, said a burst pipe takes a day or two to repair. "It is quite easy to fix," he added. "Once you turn off the mains, it can be joined back quickly."

But he pointed out that it may take longer if the pipe is embedded in the building, making it hard to find the leak. "Fixing it might then take up to a week."

This is believed to be the first time that a shopping centre has shut due to a water pipe bursting.

Singapore Retailers Association president Jannie Chan said: "The worst incident we all remember was the great flood in Orchard Road in 2010. But even then, the malls did not close."

Jem was granted a Temporary Occupation Permit by the Building and Construction Authority on May 31. This meant it complied with the Building Control Act and Regulations, which cover issues such as safety.

"We wish to emphasise that the structural integrity of the building is not affected in this incident," the authority told The Straits Times yesterday.

The mall was developed by an Australian company called Lend Lease, which is also behind Orchard's 313@Somerset and Parkway Parade.

Jurong East resident Bob Ng, 31, said the closure would not make too much of a difference as there are other shopping options in the area. But he added: "This could delay the opening of the cinema, which is very annoying."

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