Two maintenance workers were "lucky to be alive" last night after a storm uprooted a tree and sent it crashing into a building where they were working.
One was trapped under rubble for 40 minutes, the other for an hour and a half after the 15m tree fell onto a former staff gym that they were refurbishing in the grounds of Alexandra Hospital - where both men are now recovering.
One of their colleagues - a Myanmar national - and a woman who works for Jurong Health escaped with minor injuries.
The building's zinc roof collapsed, leaving a mangled mess of metal frames and only one of its four walls partly standing.
"It looked like there was an earthquake," said a 38-year-old witness, who declined to be named. "The people are lucky to be alive."
One of the maintenance technicians - believed to be a Myanmar national in his 40s - remained under observation for a fractured spine while the other, a man in his 30s, was admitted to the general ward with multiple abrasions. Both work for an outside company.
The Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) said the operation to free them was "intricate", involving firefighters and officers from its elite Disaster Assistance and Rescue Team, which handles complex rescue missions.
The SCDF received a call at 2.50pm and sent two fire engines, a Red Rhino, two fire bikes, an ambulance and three support vehicles to the scene.
Before officers could move in to start their rescue efforts, they first had to stabilise the tree and the single-storey building to prevent further damage.
There was fallen and sharpedged debris and the smallest movement could have caused further damage, the SCDF said.
Officers used hydraulic cutting and lifting equipment to reach the men, who were both pinned under concrete debris. It took about 40 minutes to retrieve the first man and another 45 to free the second.
The hospital's medical team and SCDF paramedics were at the site.
When The Straits Times arrived at around 4.30pm, a man was seen being wheeled out from the debris on a stretcher with an oxygen mask over his face.
Contractors there said they had been called in to remove the uprooted ficus tree.
The unused gym was in the final stages of being refurbished into a staff lounge, with redecorating and maintenance works almost over. It was expected to be ready within the next few days.
Alexandra Hospital's director of communications and service quality Casey Chang said certified arborists conduct annual checks on the health of trees on its premises.
The last inspection took place between September and October last year. The toppled tree was reported to have been in good health with low maintenance required at the time.
This article was published on April 11 in The Straits Times.
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