Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Govt to review drainage after year's worst flood

Jun 6, 2011

By Chua Hian Hou

Bukit Timah  Road
THE Government is warning of possibly worse floods this week, even as it ponders the need to relook Singapore's drainage systems and building codes after intense rain caused heavy flooding yesterday.

The five hours of rain led to floods in the eastern and central areas, and inundated several floors of Tanglin Mall in Cuscaden Road.

Speaking after the year's worst flood so far, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan said that all planning norms must be reviewed, 'taking into account the very high probability that our weather patterns have changed'.

'If we are going to expect sudden and intense precipitation, then it is very likely that our drainage systems must be redesigned to cope with such intense pressures,' he said.

The Government will also be looking at building codes, possibly requiring building owners to do more to flood-proof their buildings if they are located in a flood-prone area.

Meanwhile, national water agency PUB is embarking on an 'exhaustive and comprehensive check on all flood-prone areas focusing on human safety', he said.

'Where railings need to be put up, we will put up. Where drains have to be covered, we will cover,' said Dr Balakrishnan, who took over the portfolio almost three weeks ago.

Road levels, too, might have to be raised.

He said the Government will take feedback from the public in areas which they feel require work in order to secure safety, 'so let's make no compromises where this is concerned'.

He said: 'The weather reports for the next few days are that there are other storms coming, and they might be worse than this weekend. So we have to take this on board and maximise our preparations.'

While there were no deaths or injuries reported yesterday, the floods caused untold damage to retailers in several malls in town, especially Tanglin Mall.

Thousands of residents and motorists also had to contend with floods in areas such as MacPherson, Bukit Timah, Cuscaden Road and Orchard Road.

The floods come four days after a teenage Indonesian tourist died after he was swept away by an overflowing drain in the Balestier area following heavy rain.

The PUB said heavy and intense rain fell over the central and eastern parts of the island from 6.30am to 11.30am yesterday.

The rain in the east lasted till 10am and resulted in flash floods in MacPherson, which is a flood-prone area.

The downpour then moved to the central area and intensified from 10.10am to 11.30am. This led to flash floods in some parts of Orchard Road and Bukit Timah.

A total of 124mm of rainfall was recorded for the central area, about 77 per cent of the average monthly rainfall for June.

About 65mm was recorded within 30 minutes yesterday compared with 100mm within two hours on June 16 last year, which had led to serious flooding of Orchard Road.

PUB said Orchard Road did not experience similar floods yesterday as the road had been raised since last year's big flood.

PUB said it has an ongoing drainage improvement programme in flood-prone areas. It had also enhanced its flood-monitoring system by increasing the number of water level sensors in key canals and drains from 32 to 90 at the end of last year. This will be increased to 150 by the end of this year.

Tanglin Mall was the worst hit yesterday. Water rushed into the building at about 10.50am from the first floor which is at road level.

Within five minutes, water fell like a mini-waterfall onto Basement One, which houses a supermarket, food court and various shops. Shoppers found themselves in ankle-deep water.

'Someone was shouting 'run, run, run', so we all panicked, closed the shutters and ran out,' said Ms Cheryl Gan, owner of an aromatherapy store in Basement One.

Water then made its way down the ramps to Basement Two, Basement Three and Basement Four, which house the carparks.

In Basement Four, the water was nearly knee high. Some cars that were parked there were damaged and had to be towed away later.

At about 10.30pm last night, there were about 100 people still cleaning up and restoring services to the mall, said Ms Jenny Ng, its centre director.

Other buildings in the area, such as St Regis Residences, Forum Galleria, Delfi Orchard, Lucky Plaza and Liat Towers were also hit, although they saw less severe damage.

While most of the flooding was in the 'known hot spots' of Bukit Timah and MacPherson, the flooding near Tanglin Road - an area that had not seen floods in 25 years - took the PUB by surprise, said chief executive Khoo Teng Chye.

Asked if he thought Singapore's weather patterns had changed, Dr Balakrishnan said this would require long-term study.

But the Government is not going to wait for a definitive answer, he said, adding that 'personally I believe the weather has changed, and am psychologically prepared for it to get worse'.

One approach is to have different flood prevention requirements for buildings in different areas, depending on how flood-prone the area is, he said.

The PUB, said Mr Khoo, was also studying several ways to alleviate future flooding in the Tanglin area, including building a pond in the Botanic Gardens into which flood waters would drain, and building a canal to the Singapore River.

'But given the built-up situation and high cost of land, these are very expensive schemes so we are very carefully evaluating whether we should do this,' he said.

No comments: