Geylang fire: Survivor says there were 6 in a room

Geylang fire: Survivor says there were 6 in a room

Soot-covered clothes hung where they were left, on a metal railing.

Other belongings like bags, towels and pouches lay around the first-storey room, with walls darkened by Saturday morning's fire.

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Four foreign workers died in the blaze, which broke out on the first level of a three-storey walk-up apartment at 35, Geylang Lorong 4.

Eight more men - two of whom were firefighters, had to be taken to hospital.

The New Paper visited the premises yesterday afternoon, but the gate to the unit was locked.

The front door was ajar. Through the gap and a broken window, we got a glimpse into the living conditions of the Malaysian workers affected by the fire.

In one of the rooms, roughly the size of those you would see in a HDB flat, three bunk beds were lined up against the walls.

Apart from this room, two other doors could be seen from the unit's front entrance.

Now, an investigation is underway to determine if there was overcrowding in the first-storey unit.

Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin said at the sixth International Migrants Day Celebrations on Sunday that the case is being investigated, and if the landlord is found negligent, he will be punished to the fullest extent of the law.

He added: "If workers have not been given good housing, they should report to the authorities."

The Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) released a statement yesterday, stating that a "residential property leased or rooms sublet for residential purpose allows a maximum of eight occupants".

The Ministry of Manpower (MOM), which is working with the URA, also confirmed that their "investigations into the proper use of land and subletting of premises are ongoing".

When TNP visited yesterday, there was a note on the unit's door, informing the landlord of a Closure Order from the Building and Construction Authority.

The landlord, Mr Chiang Teck Fung, told TNP he was not able to comment given that an investigation was ongoing.

MOST FATAL

The fire has claimed the most number of lives for a single incident in the past 10 years.

It is still not known how many workers were in the unit damaged by the fire.

One of the survivors from the first storey unit, Mr Peter Awet, 47, returned home at about 11pm on Friday when he saw a group of workers having drinks and cooking food at the stove.

"The ground floor area has two rooms. When I got into bed at midnight, there were six of us sleeping in the room," said the cleaner, who was uninjured by the fire.

A Malaysian cleaner living on the third storey, Mr Mohd Shazwan Ahmad Zukri, 26, said he woke from his sleep after hearing shouts about the fire.

"I had no time to grab anything except for the sarong I had on," Mr Shazwan said.

"There were more than 10 of us trying to feel our way to the fire escape stairwell at the back of our apartment. The smoke was so thick that I couldn't see my hands in front of my face."

Mr Shazwan and another tenant, Mr Mohd Zarul Akhma Ahmad, escaped by jumping onto an aluminium awning on the second storey.

Both men showed TNP the three rooms on the third storey, where they had been staying.

In the largest room, there were four bunk beds for eight occupants. The two other rooms had two bunk beds each. Along the corridor, there was another bunk bed.

Every available space appeared to be utilised - a string attached to two walls acted as their clothesline.

Bags were placed underneath the beds. A communal fan and an electric thermos flask sat in the middle of the room.

Said Mr Zarul, 26, a cleaner who works at a nearby swimming pool: "I pay $220 a month for this living space. It's not the best accommodation, but it saves me money."

URA told TNP that between January and the end of last month, they investigated about 2,350 cases of unauthorised uses in private residential properties.

This includes both short-term stays and unauthorised conversion of private residential properties into workers' dormitories or boarding houses.

Madam Chua Ah Lay, 78, who has been working and staying at Singapore Glass Association in the building next door, said she can barely keep track of who is living there. The nights can get noisy and rowdy, she said.

A cleaning company, believed to be the employer of the dead workers, declined to comment when contacted by TNP yesterday.

- Additional reporting by CHOO MEI FANG


This article was first published on December 9, 2014.
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