Friday, June 11, 2010

Singapore Under Water - Peter Chan

Over the decades we had many serious floods and despite improvements to our drainage systems, floods still occur. There were many reasons for these floods; some reasons are still valid today.

Photo 1: When a rainstorm blocks your view of the city from Amber Road, you know there’s going to be some serious flooding somewhere (circa 2009).

1) Heavy rainfall coupled with high tide
2) High density populated areas
3) Construction activities contributing to more surface run-off
4)Drains and canals unable to support surface run-off because they are polluted, choked or simply not big enough.
5) Low-lying areas

Photo 2: Rising water in the Bukit Timah Canal and a BMW is marooned in the flood waters at the corner of Chancery Lane and Dunearn Road (circa 2009). As late as the 1980s, you paid $5 and some Malay boys would push your stalled vehicle. Photo Courtesy of Beatrice Lim.

At one time many residents from Strathmore Avenue to Lower Delta Road suffered from flooding. This was because of the boat-building activities next to the Kim Seng Bridge where tongkangs were built, burnt or left to rot in the waters. There was a foul smell at low tide because organic decomposed matter produced hydrogen sulphide, a pungent gas easily picked up by the nose.

Photo 3: A flooded area outside the former University of Singapore’s Bukit Timah campus. Opposite is Kheam Hock Road. (circa 1964).

The waters of the Singapore River and Rochore Canal were black in color because premises used for trade, business and habitation were not connected to sewers. For example housewives and hawkers were fond of this age-old habit of washing dishes with detergents in the backyard, and letting sludgy water run into open drains, which in turn run into the Singapore River and Rochore Canal. Also there were many motor workshops along Sungei Road contributing their fair share of the problem by spillage and irresponsible disposal of oil into the drains.

Photo 4: View from Gilstead Road towards Dunearn Road. After the flood water subsided, petrol at the petrol station was contaminated and homes in the Malay kampong flattened. Many years later, the Malay kampung became the Chancery Court HUDC Estate. The ESSO petrol station is still at the same site (circa 1969).

One area in Singapore which easily flooded was the lower Bukit Timah Road/Dunearn Road stretch between West Coronation Road and Newton Circus. The former University of Singapore sport fields became “swimming pools”. Other badly flooded areas included Robinson Road, Braddell, Potong Pasir, Norfolk Road, Whampoa, Tanjung Katong Road, Sennett Road, Balmoral Road, Kampung Java Road, Chinatown, Jalan Kolam Ayer, Jalan Ubi, and Paya Lebar.

Photo 5: Grass patch on one side, business on the other side of the Rochore Canal. Near Weld Road (circa 1962).

By the early 1980s, the Bukit Timah Flood Alleviation Scheme was completed with a new canal stretching from Sixth Avenue to Sungei Ulu Pandan. It was a project aimed at diverting water away from Bukit Timah – a low-lying area with a history of flooding. In the early 1990s, another diversion canal near Whitley Road was built connecting it to the Sungei Kallang. The Bukit Timah Canal, from the Institute of Education to Rochore Canal, was further deepened and widened, resulting in the loss of a row of flower nurseries called Floral Mile and the A&W Family Restaurant. The Bukit Timah Road was even raised. Rochore Canal was drained of silt, debris and toxic pollutants.

Photo 6: Left – Is this policeman doing the right thing at Duchess Road, off Bukit Timah? Right – A resident who lives opposite Chai Chee Secondary School, off Sennett Road (circa 1968).

When I was at secondary school between 1967 and 1968, we were always very happy when the class monitor announced; “Today no lesson” which meant it was a free period with no teacher supervision. How we wished that there were going to be no more lessons tomorrow. In 1969, I stayed at my cousin’s house at Paya Lebar Street; his terraced house was flooded. Cooking pots and woks floated out from the kitchen into the living room and we found seated on top of one of the cooking pots was a rat. In 1977, I faced an even more challenging moment when my Mini Clubman was caught in a flash flood along Napier Road, just outside Tyersall Avenue. Tactical “interplay” between clutch and first gear ensured that I got through the flood waters. When I inspected the car, I could squeeze water out of the car seats. No wonder my pants were always damp for next couple of months.

Times have changed and flooding looked to be a thing of the past. But in November 2009, something unheard of took place. Flooding affected the upper Bukit Timah Road stretch between Sixth Avenue and Blackmore Drive. Although it is fair to say that the November 2009 incident was a “freak event that happens once in 50 years” according to a government minister, I am sure when you are the victim who owns a property or an expensive Masserati this is not quite on. Fallen trees crashing down on a house or a landslide is a nightmare for many people. Who likes to get involved in litigation? Any motorist can tell you that once a car gets submerged in water, there is extensive damage to engine and transmission. Not only you face expensive repair bills from the car workshop, your vehicle will not perform as normal as before.

Photo 7: Left - Abandoned sailing boat in the Kallang Basin opposite the future Kallang Water Sports Center. Right – Boat building yard at Kim Seng Bridge. In the background are godowns which would be replaced by Grand Copthorne Waterfront Hotel in the future (circ 1966).

Halleluiah, we don’t have a Tsunami. I am very assured by the 2006 National Environment Agency study telling us that in the worst scenario we could face big waves between 0.4m to 0.7m above the average sea-level, waves reaching no more 50 meters inland and at speeds slower than normal tides. Even then, do you think there will still be floods in Singapore?

Related post: When we walked on water


Unknown said...

Since the couple of year google has changed a lot and there will be a lot of things that will be coming to the scene as it has been changing all the things that can be done.I have seen Singapore changing from the underdeveloped to the most developed country.

jean said...

Wow I had a little chill of nostalgia upon seeing that picture of the abandoned sailing boat in the Kallang Basin.I remember feeling oddly sad seeing abandoned boats every time we drove across Merdeka Bridge or past the Kallang dockyard & godowns.At this moment I can even recall the smell of the murky river and tar.
Althougn we didn't live in flood proned areas I remember how the flooded areas especially Dunearn Road Road always made the front pages during the so called monsoon season.
I'll leave the flood predictions to the experts & this is by no means in detriment to unfortunate flood victims but I wonder if floods help keep the groundwater level in S'pore at bay.

Lam Chun See said...

That Photo no. 3. I have been looking for an opportunity to do a 'second shot' to compare it with what it looks like today. From the photo, it is difficult to confirm that it is at the entrance of Spore U. as Peter claims. At first glance, I thot it was near Hwa Chong / Chinese High School area.

Anyway, lots of construction going on at both places becos of the Downtown Line.

Lam Chun See said...

Hi everyone. Going for a break. Expect some 'radio silence'.

ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

Used to live in Siglap and sometimes pass the school Peter mentioned during a flood.

I remember clearly, my car had to be towed to the workshop after a downpour in the 60s.

Nothing was spared. The car was a disaster. Don't want to live in that period again, not for the floods.

Ah... but the music is good.

Icemoon said...

Peter, somewhere in Photo 4 must be the old railway line ..

Victor said...

The polar ice caps are melting at an unprecedented rate due to man-made global warming and the sea water level is rising at an alarming rate. Some rivers have already run dry. I also read somewhere that the rice farmers in Thailand are experiencing drought.

Frankly speaking, with the climatic change, I don't think we need to wait another 50 years to experience another flooding like the one in Nov 2009.

To understand what I am talking about, you should watch this 1-hour 33-minute movie about climate change.

Icemoon said...

Have you guys read the news? Orchard Road flooded this morning!

Anonymous said...

Quote: "Even then, do you think there will still be floods in Singapore?"

Peter came up with this article at the opportune time. He might have in his possession a "crystal ball".

peter said...

In 1982 there was a big flood right in front of Orchard Tower all the way to the Thai Embassy (much worst than today). If you see my pictures, you get scare driving a luxurious car and parking in the basement carpark.

Surprising that the canal along Orchard Road cannot drain the waters away. Now I know why. It's connected to the Stamford Canal along Stamford and gets drained into Marina bay near the The Espalanade Theaters on the Bay. So it could high tide + hevay rain at the same time.

Victor said...

Orchard Road has big flood today. Peter has an uncanny ability to tell the past and predict the future. But I thought that the PUB spokesman said that the last major flood in Orchard was in 1984?

jean said...

Peter is cultivated & ...clairvoyant!

Icemoon said...

I remember the last major flooding was at East Coast Park few years back.

The flood pictures are interesting as they tell you which are the low lying areas. Paterson Road unscathed while Orchard-Scott junction submerged. Really not funny if a million dollars Ferrari/Lambo gets stuck in the water - these cars are so low!

Anonymous said...

That Orchard Road/Scotts Road/Paterson Road juncion is like a valley. Paterson Road slopes down from Paterson Hill, whilst Scotts Road slopes down from Goodwood Park Hotel, all towards that flood-prone junction. A disaster waiting to happen in terms of flash floods.

Life is Short said...

I was heading towards orchard/scott road from tanglin road. Upon noticing the floods, I quickly turned left into orange grove road, lucky me ! Still, I see many cars around me continuing to head towards orchard road; I guess many of these drivers had not experienced floods before.

Victor said...

Now will the sky-high property prices in Orchard Road come down closer to the floodwater level?

Anonymous said...

It was reported that many basement stores in Lucky Plaza and Liat Towers were badly affected by the FLASH FLOODS. Huge losses were incurred. Goods, including famous designer brands, were damaged by the FLOOD waters.

Will there be a huge "WET GOODS SALE" to move these soiled and damaged goods?
If so, will there be a FLOOD of anxious shoppers, FLOODING in a FLASH to this sale, on a lookout for some sure bargains?

Thimbuktu said...

This is not a flash flood at Orchard Road yesterday. Its a flash memory of an experience while staying at Margaret Drive, Queenstown in 1961.

A private car was stalled just outside Strathmore Primary School while my classmates and I were returning home from Delta School.

We were wading through the knee-high flood and the driver told us to push the car through the flood. He agreed to offer us a car lift.

Once the stalled engine started, the driver drove the car off while my friends and I were stranded in the cold and shivering. Anyways, we ran our way home in the flood long ago.

This incidence was the last flood in Queenstown to remember.

Icemoon said...

I suppose Thimbuktu was too shocked and cold to remember the license plate, haha.

Thimbuktu said...

Yaya...I was too young then to buy 4D for the licence plate ; )

peter said...

Two things went wrong at Orchard Road which became a catalyst for flooding.

1. Covering up the entire Stamford Canal. The source of Stamford Canal begins as a drain somewhere inside Dempsey Road and becomes a "canal" around Tanglin Shopping Center. In the 1970s, URA came up with this brilliant idea (together with Singapore Tourism Board - read the old Straits Times) to create a free-flowing pedestrian walkway from one end of town to what is now Esplanade Theaters on the Bay. Did you know when you buried your aircon piping into the wall at home, you will have a big headache when there is a leak? First you need to get the engineers' drawing to locate the pipes and then get someone to do a sound-test to locate the fault. By the time you see your walls moldy, it's too late.

Likewise when you seal/cover up Stamford Canal with no way to check for debris trapped or who's below the pavement, you are inviting danger? I believe when they built Raafles City, the basements are below the canal water-level and reinforced by a thick concrete wall to prevent water seepage. In the Stamford Canal case we have a problem because we are dependent on the contract workers to "walk all the way on the Stamford Canal" to check. Friend, you need oxygen tank because there is no outlet for fresh air. There are no man-holes to enter the canal except to start walking all the way from tanglin Shopping Center. Do you think someone will be mad to do it when there is a flash flood and you get drown?

2. Someone should be asked why did they lower the road-level at the junction of Patterson Road/Orchard Road/Scotts Road when they built ION and decided to further widen Patterson Road to make it dual carraige 6-lanes. I had been observing the road-works from the top of Shaw Center and told myself some years ago, they are asking for trouble.

Maybe the authorities can give us some good answers. I wont blame PUB for the fault.

peter said...

20 years ago, the Central Narcotics Bureau folks found youths hiding under the opened Stamford Canal in near the Cuscaden Road and Forum Galleria place. Many were caught smoking ganja, marijuana, etc. At one stroke, the police recommended the best thing to do was to cover the canal. So you now see that policy made 20 years ago also contribute to today's problem.

Lam Chun See said...

Hi there. Just got back from church camp in Msia. Missed all the action happening at 4th Ave just a stone's throw from my house. But read about the flooding at Orchard Road in the Star newspaper.

Lam Chun See said...

"Peter came up with this article at the opportune time. He might have in his possession a 'crystal ball'".

True; but it was yours truly who decided to upload it on June 11th.

Victor said...

To think that I used to catch longkang fish in the open Stamford Canal opposite the old National Library in the 1960s. Ahh... those were the days!

jean said...

Ya its true it was Lam Chun See who posted the article before he went away to church camp.He's the clairvoyant & Peter must dabble in voodoo.Credits to both!

peter said...

thanks to chun see who never "potong potong" otherwise no article.

Victor said...

Don't worry, Peter. If Chun See "potong potong" you can always "pindah rumah ke tempat saya". Haha.

fizlikwilam said...

The view was simply refreshing. You can see the Westin Stamford and Westin Plaza under construction, and the vast expanse of Marina Bay area.There was a novel act, I'm dramatic.
Egypt holidays

Anonymous said...

I stayed at Strathmore Avenue during the 70s, and I remembered the floods.... and during some of the floods, I would see some of the boys actually swimming in them...

jadelee said...

Hmm....Are we still talking about water here? Maybe urine is still linked to water:-)