SINGAPORE — When Upper Bukit Timah resident Florence Lee, 62, first received notice to attend a town hall meeting on Saturday (Sept 23), she and her neighbours thought it was just a harmless emergency preparedness drill.
She is one of more than 4,000 people from 1,000 homes and shophouses affected by the evacuation.
At around 10am, Minister for Foreign Affairs Vivian Balakrishnan visited Senja-Cashew CC to speak to affected residents. Dr Balakrishnan is a Member of Parliament for Holland-Bukit Timah Group Representation Constituency, which covers the affected areas.
The residents were all “calm and composed”, Dr Balakrishnan told reporters present.
“What we’re focused on is particularly those who are vulnerable, for instance, we have people who are bedridden, they actually have access to our daycare. Fortunately, we have all the facilities in Bukit Panjang itself,” he said.
Speaking at one of the relatively empty holding areas, Dr Balakrishnan said that his team had “over-prepared” as they were unsure how many people would need additional help.
“But we thought it’s better to overprepare than to underprepare. And clearly because today is a workday, most people have gone to work and those who are studying or attending to other business have proceeded with their lives as usual,” he said.
The bomb, a relic from World War II, was first discovered on Sept 20 at a condominium construction site along Upper Bukit Timah Road during excavation works.
Following an assessment by the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) explosive ordinance disposal team that it was unsafe to be moved and a controlled on-site detonation was necessary, evacuation notices were sent out over the weekend to nearby residents.
The police said on Sunday they will effect a 200m cordon around the war relic during the on-site disposal period and road closure will also be imposed in the vicinity from 11am.
A 100kg bomb was previously disposed of in 2016, according to a video posted on the Singapore Army’s Facebook at the time which depicted the disposal of the war relic at a construction site in Mandai.
Students from the nearby Greenridge Secondary School were placed on home-based learning, while Downtown Line services were temporarily halted during the controlled detonation as an “added precaution”.
Speaking to TODAY on Monday evening, residents living in the affected areas said they would not be badly impacted by the need to vacate their homes for a day.
A resident at Bukit 828 condominium who wanted to be known only by his surname Cai said he was mainly concerned that the announcement to evacuate came “a bit late”, as residents were told to attend a townhall meeting about the evacuation only two days before.
Nonetheless, the civil servant in his late 30s said the only adjustments his family needed to make was to leave slightly earlier than usual and find a place outside to “have dinner and hang out a bit” until given the all-clear to return home.
Likewise, Mr John Tan, 48, a resident of Hazel Park Condominium, said that his family typically leaves home before 7am on weekdays to send their children to school.
However, he feared that there might be congestion due to people choosing to leave home earlier.
“We’re just worried that there might be more people than usual,” he said. “Not sure how things will pan out.”
Some, like Mr Chong Wei Khee, 58, told TODAY that residents were concerned about the possible power supply disruption, based on messages he saw in the Hazel Park Condominium’s residents’ chatgroup.
Some neighbours had to rush to buy uninterruptable power supply unit as a backup for their fish tanks, while others were having hotpot dinners to finish up as much food as they could from their refrigerator, he said.
“I wish they had informed me earlier… because I just ordered food on Saturday (to be kept in the fridge). That’s the only issue,” he said.
An advisory letter to residents from the police advised them to take precautions “including switching off electrical devices” as electrical services to the homes may be affected during the bomb disposal operation.
RUSH TO RELOCATE ANIMALS, BUSINESSES AFFECTED
Meanwhile, businesses located along Upper Bukit Timah Road spoke to TODAY about loss of income, dealing with upset customers and a last-minute rush to make alternative arrangements.
Mr Cheng Chang Tong, 61, who runs Ga Hock Seafood along Upper Bukit Timah Road, estimated losing about S$6,000 in earnings when he closes his shop on Tuesday.
“Who can I claim this (amount) from?” he asked TODAY rhetorically, adding that he felt “bo pian” (Hokkien for ‘no choice’) about the situation.
Mr Abir Singh, a studio manager of Jal Yoga International, said he had to cancel or reschedule classes for over 200 clients on Tuesday, though he said a handful of them were upset over the last-minute change of plans.
“But if I put aside my business concerns for a moment, personally, I’m fine. I understand that it’s a safety issue,” said Mr Singh when asked what he felt about having to close shop for a day.
Kin Veterinary Clinic estimates seeing about 20 patients a day on average and had begun contacting some clients from Saturday to reschedule their appointment slots.
“One of our vets cancelled her leave today (Monday) so that some patients scheduled to meet her tomorrow can bring forward their appointment,” said Dr Chong Xian Jie, one of the three co-founders of the clinic.
He said that fortunately the clinic had only one animal kept under observation in its hospital ward, which was transferred to another clinic.
Over at pet supplies and care services provider Rock N Ruff, its owner Derrick Tan said his team had to work together with pet owners to find alternative arrangements for the 20 animals or so under its daycare and boarding services.
“But on top of that, we have about 20 or so rescued animals too, which also need to be vacated by 8am tomorrow,” said Mr Tan, 42, who also heads animal welfare group Voices for Animals.
“So my volunteers are here, some are taking some of the animals home. Some are taking the dogs back to shelter, so it’s a big logistical effort,” he said, adding that he roped in 15 or so volunteers to help out.
The plan was to bring the rest of the animals to Senja-Cashew CC, where there would be a holding area for pets too.
Speaking to TODAY on Tuesday at Senja-Cashew CC, Mr Tan said that the move of some 30 dogs to the holding area there in the morning was challenging because the dogs were more excitable in the morning and the notice Rock N Ruff had received was “definitely not enough heads-up”.
In spite of the fatigue brought about by the day’s events, he said that the experience would help them prepare for future similar cases.
“(Doing this) once in a while is not a bad thing, and it gives us a plan for contingencies. In the near future, if something similar to this happens, at least we already know how to react.”