Cars stalled, commuters stranded as flash floods hit eastern Singapore

Today Online 8 Jan 18;

SINGAPORE — It was mayhem on Monday (Jan 8) morning as road users and commuters were caught out by flash floods, and rain poured so abundantly that the amount in four hours was about half of what the island typically gets in average monthly rainfall in January.

And it was brought on in part by an out-of-ordinary weather event that does not usually happen during the North-east Monsoon.

As rain battered down and flood waters gushed from overwhelmed drainage systems, lane markings disappeared and roads turned into waterways. Photos and videos went viral online, showing scenes of partially submerged vehicles stuck in flood waters, and people wading through waters that reached above their knees.

A woman had to abandon her Mercedes Benz after it stalled in rising flood waters, while a group of commuters balanced themselves gingerly atop the slim bench of a bus stop. A passenger in a moving bus clutched tightly to the railing, as a small pool of flood water ebbed and flowed through the bus door.

Two people were sent to hospital after a tree fell on them in Toa Payoh. And at one housing block in Tampines, rainwater cascaded like a "waterfall" in a lift.

A number of buses had to skip bus stops along the flooded roads, SBS Transit said.

At a media briefing later in the evening, national water agency PUB reported that eight out of the nine places hit by flash floods in the eastern parts of Singapore are low-lying areas where drainage improvement work is ongoing, and they are due to be completed latest by the first quarter of next year.

It cautioned the public not to "risk" their personal safety by stepping or driving into flooded areas, but to take an alternative route or wait for the water levels to subside. They should also check for updates and advance warnings on the agency's mobile application and Facebook page, or via radio broadcasts.

However, it was too little too late for those who were trapped in the morning, as they were using their mobile devices more to capture photos and videos.

The heavy downpour, which lasted between 6.20am and 10.25am, was the result of the prevailing North-east Monsoon, aggravated by an unexpected Sumatra squall — sudden thunderstorm lines that developed over the Straits of Malacca, PUB said.

CHANGE IN WIND DIRECTION

It is not so common for squalls to occur here during the North-east Monsoon season because winds are blowing from the north-east direction. Sumatra squalls usually happen during the South-west Monsoon between March and November. A change in wind direction on Monday caused the squall to move east towards Singapore, a Meteorological Service Singapore spokesperson said.

Many of the places whipped by the storm were in the eastern parts of the island, with the heaviest rainfall recorded along Kim Chuan Road near Paya Lebar.

PUB is investigating why flash floods occurred at one of the nine locations: Tampines Avenue 12.

Mr Yeo Keng Soon, director of the catchment and waterways department in PUB, said that this place was not considered to be low-lying and there is no drainage improvement work there. Preliminary checks did not show any form of obstruction in the drains as well.

Mr Choy Wai Kwong, chief engineer from the same department, said that rainwater might have gushed down quickly from an adjacent slope, which temporarily exceeded the drain's capacity.

For the other eight locations, Mr Yeo said that when drainage improvement works are done, the flash flood "situation" would improve should rainfall of similar intensity fall on these areas again. Drains would be able to discharge more water in a shorter period of time.

The areas affected by flash floods on Monday included Tampines Road, the junction of Bedok Road and New Upper Changi Road, and the junction of Upper Changi Road and Bedok North Ave 4.

These places have a history of being prone to flooding, or are subject to tidal influence, PUB said, adding that the heaviest rainfall of 118.8mm at Kim Chuan Road amounted to roughly half of Singapore's average monthly rainfall in January.

Data from the Meteorological Service Singapore showed that rain was heaviest over the northern and eastern parts of the island on Monday. Areas that recorded more than 100mm of total rainfall in the morning included Ang Mo Kio (118.0mm), Bishan (110.7mm) and Hougang (108.0mm).

BUS CABINS 'FLOODED'

Of the buses plying the roads, 12 from SBS Transit (services 9 and 10) were affected by the flash floods.

Ms Tammy Tan, the transport operator's senior vice-president of corporate communications, said: "As water levels rose, the cabins of these buses became flooded, some with ankle-high water, as they travelled along Upper Changi Road and Paya Lebar Road. Officers from the Singapore Civil Defence Force were on hand to guide our buses to safely pass through the affected areas."

Buses also had to skip eight bus stops along the affected roads, she added. No buses were stalled and no passengers were injured, but as a precautionary measure, vehicles caught in the floods were called back for checks at workshops.

When TODAY visited Upper Changi Road and Jalan Greja off Bedok Road, which were among the worst-hit, things had returned to normal at about 5.30pm. Residents said that the flood waters were mostly confined to the streets and did not enter their homes, or entered just a small part of their driveways.

Businessman Alex Lo, 55, who lives along Jalan Greja, said that he noticed the flooding on the stretch at about 9am. When he looked out of his window on the second floor of his house, he saw a car stranded on the street.

Mr Lo, who has lived in the area for more than a decade, has "never seen flooding like this". The waters fully subsided about an hour later at 10.15am.

At the Upper Changi Road area, the owner of a gold-coloured Mercedes Benz — who did not wish to be identified — returned to retrieve her car at around 6.30pm. When it still refused to start, she had to call a tow sevice.

The driver's trying experience made its rounds earlier on social media, when she was captured pushing the stalled car through flood waters along the road there. She eventually left it at a nearby landed housing estate.

While it may seem like calls for tow services could have spiked on Monday, those contacted by TODAY said that this was not the case. A spokesperson for Island Recovery Services, one of the biggest operators here with more than 40 tow trucks, disclosed that there were "not many cases", but it did not give any figures.

At BH Auto Services, its operations director Eric Cheong said that the firm towed a car out of mud after it was stuck on a grass patch in the Dempsey Hill area due to the heavy rain.

People's Vehicle Service responded to just one case of a vehicle stalled in floodwaters along Sims Avenue. "It could move a bit and we towed back the vehicle to the workshop," its representative said.

SURGE IN FARES FOR PRIVATE-HIRE CARS

Uber driver Ivan Foo, 38, who was driving near the flood-hit areas such as Changi North, Simei and Tampines, told TODAY that demand for rides was "high" between 7am and 10am, and bookings were back-to-back.

Fares also surged due to strong demand. For instance, a booking from Bedok Court condominium near Tanah Merah MRT Station to Elias Road in Pasir Ris went up to about S$22, which is 2.5 times the usual fares, Mr Foo said.

Elsewhere, demand for private-hire cars was also high because of the heavy rain. Mr Chris Koh, 50, who is also with Uber, said that he was booked to go from Bukit Timah into the city, and fares on his UberExec mid-tier luxury sedan surged about 1.9 times the usual prices.

Several of his friends driving in eastern Singapore reported fare surges of up to three times the normal fares, Mr Koh added.

In the next few days, thundery showers are expected over many areas in the afternoon, but PUB said that it is difficult to predict if flash floods would occur again. This would depend on factors such as how fast moving the rain is.

Looking at historical data, the highest daily total rainfall ever recorded in January was 238.2mm at Pulau Ubin on Jan 30 in 2011, the Meteorological Service Singapore said.

Over the decades, flood-prone areas in Singapore have been reduced from more than 3,000 hectares in the 1970s to about 30 hectares today. ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY LOUISA TANG, SIAU MING EN, KENNETH CHENG


Flooding situation will ‘definitely improve’ when drainage works are completed: PUB
Monica Kotwani Channel NewsAsia 8 Jan 18;

SINGAPORE: Flash flooding of the intensity seen on Monday morning (Jan 8) will be better managed, once ongoing drainage improvement works are completed by the first quarter of 2019, said national water agency PUB on Monday (Jan 8).

“You can be very sure that when drainage improvement works are completed, the situation will definitely be improved,” said Mr Yeo Keng Soon, director of PUB's Catchment and Waterways Department following flash floods that affected many parts of eastern Singapore in the morning.

“The drains will be able to discharge more water in a shorter period of time (when works are completed)," he added. "(But) whether an area will be flood-free, we cannot promise that.”

During an evening media briefing, Mr Yeo said that drains in eastern Singapore were “overwhelmed” by the intense rain that fell on Monday morning, reiterating what PUB had said earlier in the day that about half of Singapore's average monthly rainfall in January fell in just four hours in the Kim Chuan Road area.

Preliminary investigations showed that the drains were running at 100 per cent efficiency, and there were no obstructions in the drains to have contributed to the flash floods.

“The drains were serving their intended purpose and function this morning,” said Mr Yeo. "But based on that kind of rainfall, it overwhelmed our drain design capacity.”

According to the National Environment Agency, the rain falling over eastern Singapore was due to the prevailing northeast monsoon, aggravated by the development of a Sumatra squall over the Straits of Malacca which moved eastwards due to changing wind direction.

A Meteorological Service spokesperson who was at the briefing explained that it is less common for a Sumatra squall to form in January, as it is typically seen between March and November.

PUB added that the tide level could have aggravated the situation at the nine locations where flooding was reported. Four of those locations lead to Bedok Canal and are subject to tidal influence.

PUB explained that during high tide, seawater can flow into the canal, but water levels are manageable without heavy rainfall. With a mid-tide level this morning, it could have aggravated the flooding at locations near Bedok Canal.

Eight of the locations where flooding occurred are where three main improvement works are ongoing, said PUB. The works are slated to be completed between the third quarter of this year and the first quarter of 2019.

With the exception of Tampines Avenue 12, the rest are low-lying areas. PUB said flooding in Tampines Avenue 12 could have been due to a "high slope" in the area which possibly caused rainwater to rush down fast enough to beat the threshold capacity of the drain.

MORE RAIN EXPECTED BUT HARD TO PREDICT INTENSITY

NEA said that while Singapore can expect more rain in the next few days, it is hard to predict the intensity of rainfall.

Meanwhile, PUB said it has measures in place to deal with a possible deluge, such as having contractors on standby to pump out water, should there be flooding in areas such as basement car parks. It has also been drawing on staff from its other divisions to standby for potential flooding during this period.

While it urged members of the public to be patient until drainage works are completed, PUB said they should also take precautions and keep themselves informed through the various platforms such as on radio and on PUB’s MyWaters mobile app.

It urged pedestrians to wait until floodwaters recede before venturing out, and for motorists to avoid flooded areas as their vehicles may stall once water levels reach a certain level.

Source: CNA/gs


Half of January's average monthly rainfall fell over Kim Chuan Road within 4 hours
Channel NewsAsia 8 Jan 18;

SINGAPORE: In just four hours on Monday morning (Jan 8), about half of Singapore's average monthly rainfall in January fell in the Kim Chuan Road area in Bartley, according to national water agency PUB.

In a news release, PUB said widespread rain fell over Singapore due to the prevailing northeast monsoon, aggravated by the development of a Sumatra squall over the Straits of Malacca which moved eastwards.

The heaviest rainfall of 118.8mm was recorded at the Kim Chuan Road rain gauge between 6.20am to 10.25am - that's about half of Singapore's average monthly rainfall in January, PUB said.

It added that rainfall in the area peaked between 8am and 8.30am, with an intensity of 56mm per hour.

Flash floods due to "intense rain" were reported in nine locations in eastern Singapore.

The first flash flood occurred at 8.30am and all of the floods - which lasted between 15 minutes and an hour each - had subsided by 10.30am, according to PUB.

The agency said its officers were immediately deployed to the flooded locations to investigate and provide assistance.

Of these locations, Tampines Road and Arumugam Road have a history of flooding due to "localised conditions", PUB said.

Meanwhile, four other locations - Jalan Nipah, Bedok Road/New Upper Changi Road, Upper Changi Road/Bedok North Avenue 4 as well as Bedok Road/Upper Changi Road - lead to Bedok Canal and are subject to tidal influences, the agency explained.

There are already ongoing drainage improvement works to improve flood protection for these locations, while PUB is carrying out further investigations for Tampines Ave 12, it added.


The agency urged members of the public to exercise caution and avoid stepping into or driving into flooded areas.

It also encouraged people to stay tuned to updates on radio broadcasts and on PUB's Facebook page or mobile app for flood updates during the monsoon season.

Source: CNA/mz

'Worst flash floods in 30 years': Bedok resident
Dawn Ang Channel NewsAsia 8 Jan 18;

SINGAPORE: Some residents in the eastern parts of Singapore woke up to more than Monday blues on Monday (Jan 8) - some had to face murky brown water, coming right up to their doorsteps.

"The water came into the driveway, up to the front of my car," said retiree Mr Lim, who lives along a stretch of terrace houses along Jalan Greja. The low-lying residential area in Bedok was one of those affected by the flash floods on Monday.

“I’ve lived here for over 30 years. This is the worst flash flood we have experienced,” said the 67-year-old.

Floods were reported at nine areas in total - including Tampines, Sims Avenue and Upper Changi Road - said national water agency PUB.

PUB also sent out alerts on social media, warning that there was "high flood risk" at several waterways such as Bedok Canal, Sungei Kallang and Sungei Tongkang.

Channel NewsAsia visited the private estates next to Bedok Canal shortly after the PUB alerts came in. While the flash floods had subsided, there were signs of water damage.

Mr Lim was in the midst of clearing up debris from fallen potted plants outside his house. He said water at the walkway outside his house came up to 20cm, submerging some of his smaller plants.

He said that the last time flash floods occurred here was eight to nine years ago.

Businessman Alex Lo said he thought it was just another rainy Monday morning until his wife alerted him that flood waters were gathering outside. “(I was) so worried that the water level would rise further,” his wife Corinne said.

The Los live in a corner terrace along Jalan Greja, three streets down from Jalan Nipah which was flooded. Drainage in the area is connected to Bedok Canal and is subject to tidal influence, PUB said.

Mr Lo said water levels peaked at around 9.30am, making it impossible for cars to drive through to get to Bedok Road.

“One driver was unfortunately caught in the high waters. He had a tough time climbing out of his car,” recounted Mr Lo. The driver had to call a tow company to take the stalled car away, he added.

“I can’t imagine if it was during high tide. The flash flood would have been worse,” said Mr Lo.

A couple of Jalan Greja residents noted that construction works are ongoing at the canal behind their estate. PUB said in a statement on Monday that drainage improvement works are already underway to improve flood protection for the various locations which were hit by flash floods.

The agency also said the flooding was caused by intense rain and that half of Singapore's average monthly rainfall in January fell on Kim Chuan Road in Bartley in the span of four hours.

Source: CNA/da

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