First explosion heard as WWII bomb disposal underway at former Zouk site after residents vacate area

SINGAPORE - The area around the former site of popular nightclub Zouk was a hive of activity on Monday morning (Nov 18), as police, soldiers and residents of nearby condominiums and hotel guests prepared for the controlled detonation of a World War II bomb relic.

The first explosion of the detonation operation, held around a construction site in Jiak Kim Street where a 50kg aerial bomb was discovered at a construction site last Tuesday, was heard at 11am.

Slight tremors were felt nearby and passers-by along the Singapore River said there was a smell of explosives in the air.

Roads around the area near Kim Seng Road were also closed, with a 200m cordon set up during the operation.

Tourist Su Zhi Qing, 28, said he heard the first explosion from about 1km away from the site.

Mr Su, who is from China, said he was puzzled when he first saw the area around Jiak Kim Street cordoned off while he was on his way to Sentosa.

"I was a bit shocked but then I read about it on the news. I understand this happens quite rarely in Singapore and so I felt quite 'lucky' that it happened while I'm here," he said.

Earlier at 7am, those living in condominiums near Jiak Kim Street were seen trickling out of their homes, following police instructions to vacate their units from 8am to 6pm.

About 600 residential units were affected, including those at the Tribeca by the Waterfront, Rivergate and Mirage Tower condominiums.

Residents leaving the Tribeca condominium along Jiak Kim Street, on Nov 18, 2019, before the disposal of the WWII bomb. PHOTO: The Straits Times

By about 7.50am, 10 minutes before all residents were evacuated, 20 to 30 police officers were seen on the ground.

Affected roads around the area were closed to traffic by 9.30am.

The Straits Times understands that the bomb disposal unit was on site as early as 5am.

In anticipation of the controlled on-site detonation of the bomb by the Singapore Armed Forces Explosive Ordnance Disposal team, residents had been told by the police and their respective condominium managements last Saturday to keep their windows open to prevent them from shattering as a result of pressure differences.

A holding area, understood to be a school hall, was also set up in River Valley Primary School for those who did not have anywhere to go during the affected period.

At least 13 police vehicles and one Singapore Civil Defence Force fire engine were seen at the school.

By 12pm, there were fewer than 10 residents believed to be in the school.

Residents told ST on Monday morning that they had tweaked their schedules accordingly, although some remained apprehensive of the area's safety even after the explosion.

Ms Saya Yuan, 25, who works in the health supplements industry, said she was checking in to a hotel for two nights, and would be moving out of the condominium, where she currently lives, at the end of the month.

Pulling a luggage bag that she had packed overnight by her side, she said: "I know the authorities have it taken care of, but I'm still really worried that there will be remnants (of the bomb). I just have a weird feeling about it.

"Some of my friends actually flew overseas, what I'm doing is already less extreme."

Some residents are less worried but have still taken precautions.

Housewife Margaret Thong, 48, said she had sent her cat to a cat hotel for a few days to avoid unforeseen complications. She will spend Monday shopping instead, a disruption to her initial plans of spending time at home with her pet.

Her 11th-floor unit, which overlooks the construction site, gave her the perfect vantage point in the past week to check on developments, "keeping the bomb foremost in her mind", she said.

Police and SCDF officers near Jiak Kim Street preparing for the disposal of the WWII bomb, on Nov 18, 2019. PHOTO: The Straits Times

Ms Jyotsna-Dash, a 74-year-old former teacher whose unit also overlooks the site, said she had been sending photos to her daughter in the United States daily on the bomb situation.

"My daughter has been asking for constant updates," she said. "This is a minor inconvenience to me since I don't really like leaving my house early in the morning, but I have no complaints since they told us two days in advance and we could make plans."

Ms Aditi Krishnakumar decided not to send her three-year-old daughter to childcare on Monday, taking leave from her job at a hedge fund to take care of her instead.

The 35-year-old said: "We are going to go to the holding area for a short while because it is still too early in the morning to do anything.

"I might bring her to the library or visit some friends later but it definitely has changed my Monday plans."

The Grand Copthorne Waterfront hotel, whose guests and staff were also asked to evacuate, said a limited number of its guests were affected, with some rooms facing the construction site out-of-bounds.

The hotel said it has increased security measures and is actively working with the police "to ensure the safety of all our guests and staff".

Several tourists staying at the hotel were unperturbed, saying that they are used to such controlled explosions in the countries they are from.

A man in his 30s from Britain said it was "exciting" that his trip coincided with the event, and that he was "really surprised when I received the text message from (the Singapore Government) alerting me to the incident".

"I've experienced it in the United Kingdom before, though, so I'm not too worried," he said, as he booked a Grab car to leave the affected area.

ST understands a lounge area with refreshments was set up in the hotel for affected guests to rest, and that notices were placed in public areas of the hotel to keep guests updated on the situation.

King's Centre and Waterfront Plaza, both located next to the hotel, are also helping the police with traffic management and logistics, redirecting members of the public when it is necessary.

Pedestrians and residents are advised not to enter the affected area while the bomb is being disposed of: Kim Seng Road (between the Singapore River and Havelock Road), Jiak Kim Street, and the footpaths along the Singapore River from Kim Seng Road to Saiboo Street.

"Loud sounds may be heard during the controlled on-site disposal of the war relic. The public is advised not to be alarmed," the police said earlier.

More updates on the operation can be found on the police Facebook page, or by subscribing to the police WhatsApp broadcast by texting 9731-0950.

[CONTROLLED DISPOSAL OF WAR RELIC FOUND AT A CONSTRUCTION SITE ALONG JIAK KIM STREET] ‚ÄčOn 12 November 2019 at about...

Posted by Singapore Police Force on Saturday, November 16, 2019

This article was first published in The Straits Times. Permission required for reproduction.