She was only 17 when the Hotel New World disaster happened.
When Red Cross volunteer Pat Jeanisa Ng, now 48, called headquarters to offer her help, she did not expect to be sent into the disaster zone.
Miss Ng, who has been with the Red Cross since Primary 2, was stationed at an Indian vegetarian restaurant across the road from the collapsed hotel.
Her job was to offer food and drinks to family members waiting for news of survivors.
When her superiors wanted people who could speak Chinese dialects, Miss Ng volunteered, not knowing what she was in for.
"I didn't know I was going to the mortuary at first, but my seniors felt I was mature enough to speak to the families there," said Miss Ng, who speaks Cantonese, Hokkien and Hakka.
She recalled helping an elderly widow who spoke Hakka.
The woman's only son was working in the bank in the building.
He had just graduated from university, and she had pinned all her hopes on him.
The widow was called to identify her son's body after a few hours. She was relieved when he was not in the first room, but she found him in the next one.
Miss Ng said: "She leaned on me and wailed. We sat her down and talked to her for a long time.
"After that, I hid in an ambulance and cried for half an hour."
Miss Ng, an arts manager in a local theatre company, has since sat on the Red Cross Youth Council and served at the command centre for the Red Cross operation in Aceh after the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami.
She is grateful she could help the relatives of the Hotel New World disaster victims.
"Sometimes words are not necessary. My experience back then helped me to be a listening ear and to serve the most vulnerable."
This article was first published on Mar 15, 2017.
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