Workers lost everything in Choa Chu Kang fire

Workers lost everything in Choa Chu Kang fire
DESTROYED: The blaze completely gutted the second and third storeys of the workers’ dormitory.
PHOTO: TERESA LO

Asleep in only his underwear, he was awoken when smoke entered his room.

The construction worker dashed out as flames consumed his dormitory. While thankful he escaped, he and his colleagues were devastated to see their Singapore home had been gutted.

Everything they owned, from money to clothes and computers, was gone.

The fire broke out at the three-storey workers' dormitory at Choa Chu Kang Avenue 1 yesterday at 9am.

Clad in a borrowed shirt and sarong, the Chinese national, who declined to be named, told The New Paper: "All I could see was smoke. I tried to grab the fire hose but the fire was too strong. I ran out in my underwear."

When TNP arrived at the scene, a group of over 200 construction workers had gathered. Close to half of them, employed by Kuan Aik Hong Construction, lived in the gutted dormitory. Some had been paid their wages just the day before.

A worker, who wanted to be known as Mr Lee, 47, was so desperate, he braved the flames and ran into the burning building.

Pointing to a red satchel he was hugging tightly, Mr Lee said: "I have $1,000 inside. Even though the smoke was suffocating, I had to go back and get it.

"But even with the money, I don't know where I'll be sleeping tonight."

Another worker, who wanted to be known as Mr Che, 45, said he lost a new computer and $500.

He said: "I just received my salary a week ago and spent half of it on the computer."

He was planning to send the $500 to his family in China.

Bangladeshi Sayfun Isslam, 30, showed TNP a list of possessions he had lost in the fire - scribbled on a piece of a crumpled napkin. The list, which included his laptop, passport and work permit, was short but clearly meant a lot to him.

TWO MONTHS' PAY

He said: "Two months of salary are gone. I can't send it to my family and they are waiting."

He had intended to send $2,000 to his family of six in Bangladesh this Sunday.

Mr Sayfun tried to enter the burning dormitory but was unsuccessful as "the smoke was too thick".

The Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) was alerted to the fire at around 9.30am. It said the fire was put under control within 30 minutes and extinguished within an hour.

Three firefighters were hurt and taken to the National University Hospital. Their injuries included chest pain, backache and a swollen foot.

No workers were injured.

The second and third storeys of the dormitory were completely gutted while the white walls on the first storey were charred.

The cause of the fire is under investigation.

Police pitch in with donations

Amid the despair, there was some hope for the workers.

Jurong Police Division donated over 800 pieces of clothing to them as part of its Project HeartWear initiative yesterday evening.

Under the project, officers are encouraged to donate their clothing and other items to foreign workers living in dormitories within the division's jurisdiction.

On hearing about yesterday's fire, Jurong Police Division decided to contribute all the items collected to the affected workers instead.

40 BOXES

As officers unloaded over 40 boxes of clothes, bags, shoes, towels and biscuits outside the burnt dormitory at 5pm yesterday, the worried looks on the workers' faces were replaced with smiles.

A Bangladeshi worker, who wanted to be known only as Mr Ramu, 30, told The New Paper: "I've been working here for 10 years and I only had six sets of clothes. But they're all gone now."

As he excitedly tried on a red T-shirt, Ramu said: "I'm very happy and grateful... Thank you very much."

Indian worker Sellamuthu Ilayaraja, 27, added: "I lost 10 sets of clothes and my books, but now... I'm happy."

Assistant Commissioner Wilson Lim, commander of Jurong Police Division, said: "I am heartened by the generous contributions by my officers and we are glad to be able to help the workers."

A Kuan Aik Hong Construction staff member said the workers will be temporarily housed in another dormitory in Toa Payoh. TNP understands that the company has also given the workers a small sum of money for necessities.

tnp@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on June 12, 2015.
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