Thursday, April 22, 2004

more on Nicoll Highway

(damn the ST Online! they've changed their homepage site on me! little pieces of -expletive deleted-.)

anyway, as promised, for Singaporeans reading this, more information on the Nicoll Highway accident. the length of time Nicoll is expected to stay closed gets longer with each day --six to nine months, they're saying now.

SCDF men find a second body
LTA sets up inquiry into Nicoll Highway collapse; search continues but hopesfade for two Singaporeans still missing

By Tan Hsueh Yun

A SECOND body was pulled out of the Nicoll Highway cave-in late last night, hours after Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong reminded all concerned that the priority was to find the missing men, not point fingers.

Now is not the time to talk about who is to blame for Tuesday's disaster or about compensation.

The priority is to find the men not accounted for and to control the damage there, he said after visiting the devastated Circle Line construction site yesterday evening.

He vowed that the Government would find out the cause.

'This thing has happened,' he said. 'We will get to the bottom of it.'

At 11.42 last night, Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) rescuers brought up the second body from the disaster site.

The body could not be identified immediately but from the clothes he wore, SCDF commissioner James Tan said that it was probably that of a missing China national. The other two missing men are Singaporeans.

The Land Transport Authority (LTA) has formed a panel to investigate the cause, headed by LTA board member Yong Kwet Yew, professor of civil engineering and vice-president of the National University of Singapore.

The Government may set up an independent inquiry, said Transport Minister Yeo Cheow Tong, probably headed by a magistrate.

Efforts to find the missing men continued through Tuesday night.

In the early hours of yesterday morning, all work came to a halt. Lights, generators and all machines were switched off while rescuers used a life detection device to pick up even the slightest sound or movement from under the rubble and mud.

No sign of life was detected and sniffer dogs were brought back in for the search.

Above ground at rush hour, traffic snarls in Geylang and Kallang and tailbacks on the East Coast Parkway were the norm as drivers scrambled to find alternative routes. Nicoll Highway may be closed for six to nine months.

Close by, the vigil continued at the Kampong Glam Community Club, where relatives of the missing waited.

Mr Goh expressed his sympathy for the family members during his visit to the site with Home Affairs Minister Wong Kan Seng and Mr Yeo.

Standing at the edge of the huge wound in the earth, he was briefed by the SCDF chief and LTA officials.

It was a major accident and while relieved that the number of casualties was lower than it might have been, he said 'a casualty is a casualty'.

The priority was to find the missing men and, if they had perished, do the best to recover the bodies.

'But looking at the site and the extent of the collapse of the road, the tunnel, I was told that this is a very complex and delicate task,' he said.

Praising the authorities' quick reaction to 'a complex situation', Mr Goh said: 'I would say that they have done a very good job in coordinating, in responding to a crisis.

'That's what is important, because what has happened has happened. But how you respond to a crisis is a further mark of our ability to cope with disasters.'

He said that he had been in the Members' Room in Parliament on Tuesday afternoon when somebody said Nicoll Highway had collapsed.

He turned to the TV but could not get a sense of the scale of the accident, so he had Mr Wong and Mr Yeo go there to size up the situation and keep him updated.

But even as Mr Goh assured Singaporeans that answers would be found, he made it plain that this was not the time to say who was at fault, take action against anyone or discuss compensation.

His own reaction, he said, had not been to ask first who was to blame.

'My first question was: Are there lives lost? Where are they? How can we save them? How do we control damage to prevent further losses?'

Compensation will be dealt with at a more appropriate time, he said. 'I know this interests many people but when there's a crisis, you must know what steps to take. I would not expect the engineers and the Civil Defence to come here to worry about suing others and compensation.

'No. The immediate task is to rescue people who are trapped, and then to plan the next step and control the damage,' he added.

what seems to have happened is the one of the two supporting walls collapsed, and within seconds tons of earth was falling into the hole, taking everything on the surface with it. it's scary. how they build the tunnels is to put two concrete support walls in place, then dig out the earth between them, supporting the walls against the pressure of the rest of the earth on either side using steel beams and so forth. if those supports snap, everything falls apart.

work continues on finding the last two missing men, both Singaporean; one an LTA man. the odds of finding them alive seem to be fairly low at this point.


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