He dug for survivors till his hands bled

He dug for survivors till his hands bled
Rescue workers from the Civil Defence, police, fire service and army at the site of the collapsed Hotel New World on 19 March, 1986.
PHOTO: The Straits Times

Exactly 31 years ago on this day, Mr David Yeo was resting in his Kitchener Road home at 11.25am when he heard what he thought was a bomb going off.

He ran to his balcony to see a big cloud of dust where Hotel New World stood. Then he realised: The building was gone.

Mr Yeo, then a newly married 32-year-old production supervisor, told The New Paper: "I rushed down in my singlet and slippers. Police stopped me from entering the site, but after I showed them my Red Cross (identification), they let me in to help with rescue operations."

The Hotel New World disaster claimed 33 lives.

The six-storey building was reduced to rubble in less than a minute.

Located at the junction of Serangoon Road and Owen Road, it had housed a 67-room hotel, a branch office of the Industrial & Commercial Bank and a basement carpark.

Read also: Hotel collapse hero loses fight with cancer

Mr Yeo, now 63, said: "It was very chaotic, everybody was panicking... We could hear people crying."

The Singapore Red Cross (SRC) volunteer since secondary school started digging into the rubble with his bare hands.

David Yeo in Red Cross uniform.Photo: Courtesy of David Yeo

Said Mr Yeo: "You couldn't see anything because the dust was so thick, so we had to listen out for sounds."

He eventually helped pull several people out of the rubble. They were covered in sand, and some were bleeding badly.

Mr Yeo dug for a few hours until his hands started bleeding. Other rescuers, including those from the Singapore Civil Defence Force, continued.

He said: "It took more than half an hour to pull out each person. I would have continued, but I was very tired."

When rescue operations ended four days later, 17 survivors had been saved.

The last survivor, a 46-year-old woman, had spent 83 hours in total darkness.

On March 21, the final 12 bodies were uncovered after workers cleared the remaining rubble and removed more than 30 cars.

Mr Yeo, who now runs a digital printing company and is also a photographer, said he is still traumatised.

Read also: 30 years after hotel New World collapse, volunteers at scene look back

He said: "When I go into dark caves overseas to take photos, I still think of being in the rubble and hearing people crying. Sad memories cannot be erased."

His experience affirmed his decision to volunteer with SRC.

Mr Yeo said: "If you join SRC, you learn a lot of things.

"If you have basic lifesaving skills, you are prepared for any emergency."

This article was first published on Mar 15, 2017.
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