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         Jul 23, 2010

         Another tree falls, damaging car
         Driver and two passengers unhurt; he plans
         to seek redress from NParks
         By Carolyn Quek

         ANOTHER falling tree hit a car on the move yesterday, the second such incident in three days.

         The impact shattered the rear windscreen of the two-year-old blue Chevrolet, which was on Ang Mo
         Kio Street 22, but its three occupants escaped unhurt.

         Although they were not trapped, the shocked trio stayed put in the car until the Singapore Civil
         Defence Force came to their aid.

         The incident echoed what happened to Mr Chua Loong Wai, 32, on Tuesday - except that he was
         killed by the rain tree that fell on his car as he drove down Yio Chu Kang Road.

         Yesterday's mishap took place at about 7.40am near Block 226, Ang Mo Kio Street 22, shortly after a
         heavy downpour.

         The tree in question has been identified as a sea apple tree that is 15m tall and about 25 to 30 years
         old. It was last pruned in November.

         The driver of the car, Mr Steven Lee, 48, told The Straits Times that he had just picked up his brother
         and 20-year-old niece from their home and was taking them to work and school when the tree came
         crashing down on them.

         The IT company manager said: 'The tree covered the whole car. Thank God nothing happened to us,
         but the car is badly damaged.'

         His brother Edward, 52, a manager in the food and beverage industry, was in the front passenger
         seat. He said he saw the falling tree heading their way but it happened so fast that he could not
         warn his brother in time.

         Mr Lee, the driver, said he hit the brakes, which threw his niece Rebecca, a Ngee Ann Polytechnic
         student, forward.

         She said of the smashed rear windscreen: 'I was saved because my uncle slammed on the brakes.

         'If I had been leaning back, it would have shattered on my head, and it would have been much

         She added wryly: 'The first thing that came to my mind was, the trees are falling a bit too much.'

         She said she was shivering while waiting for help to arrive.

         'I never expected this would happen so soon after the other accident - and certainly not to me.'

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         Her uncle said he intends to seek compensation from NParks as his car insurance policy does not
         provide coverage for incidents like this.

         NParks declined to elaborate on its compensation policies, but said it had contacted Mr Lee and given
         him some information.

         General Insurance Association president Derek Teo said that if a driver had bought a comprehensive
         motor insurance plan, he would be covered for mishaps of this kind.

         Falling trees not result of poor maintenance,
         says NParks

         THE recent spate of trees falling are the result of severe weather conditions, not poor maintenance.

         The National Parks Board (NParks) said it had, in fact, stepped up its 15,000 tree a month inspection
         to include an additional 2,000 large, mature trees in the past two months, when unstable weather
         first hit Singapore.

         Meeting the media yesterday, NParks director of streetscapes Simon Longman said there was no
         emerging pattern as to what sort of trees or areas were more prone to such accidents.

         'There was no trend in the species, the size or the location of these recent cases, and it really boils
         down to the individual circumstances like wind and rain,' said Mr Longman, who added that the
         recent severe weather conditions have made the work of NParks particularly challenging.

         'For the tree that fell in Yio Chu Kang, it had a well-formed root system, and yet was completely
         uprooted by the microburst.'

         Thunderstorms and microbursts, which are powerful gusts of air, contributed to 240 incidents of fallen
         trees or branches in June alone.

         This week, two instances of trees falling on cars were reported - one in Ang Mo Kio yesterday and
         another in Yio Chu Kang on Tuesday, when a man was crushed to death.

         And in the light of more severe weather expected at the weekend, the intensified maintenance regime
         - which targets trees along roads with high vehicular traffic - will continue.

         Mr Longman also gave the assurance that NParks has been carrying out a 'very rigorous and
         systematic' tree care programme, with regular tree safety inspections for signs of poor health, disease,
         pests or structural defects performed since the 1980s.

         NParks has 120 officers certified by the International Society of Arboriculture who go around
         inspecting each of the estimated two million trees along Singapore's roads, in parks and protected
         nature areas at intervals of 12 to 18 months.

         A visual examination - to look out for decay, cracks or entanglement - may be followed up with
         secondary checks with the use of high-tech equipment if necessary.

         For example, the PiCUS sonic tomograph is used to detect the internal condition of the trees by
         measuring the velocity of sound passed through the wood in a cross-section of the tree to assess if

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         there are cavities.

         Inspection details are then recorded in a computerised database which enables NParks staff to
         identify trends and take preventive action to minimise the risks of tree failure.

         For instance, once NParks identifies trees in areas with public access that are deemed vulnerable
         during rainstorms, they are replaced with stronger species like the angsana, rain tree, broad-leaf
         mahogany and yellow flame.

         Addressing questions about trees in urban areas possibly having insufficient space to develop their
         roots, Mr Longman explained that a 2m-wide road coast designated for tree planting is allocated
         whenever new roads are built - and that is sufficient.

         Trees 'will maximise the available space below the ground', even creeping under nearby drains, as the
         tree in Yio Chu Kang did.

         When asked whether the age and size of roadside trees should be capped to ensure they are not
         safety hazards, Mr Longman said: 'It is not so much about the size of the tree, but about the
         management - even smaller trees can cause extensive damage. Big trees like rain trees are just well-
         adapted to this tropical region.

         'As for ageing trees, we take it very seriously when it comes to assessing the decline of trees and in
         anticipating the point when a tree becomes a liability under normal conditions.'

         Noting that older trees will eventually be replaced in the long-term streetscape master-plan, he said:
         'We can't give 100 per cent assurance that nothing will happen...but we have a duty of care owed to
         people to keep trees safe and well-maintained.'

         Recent incidents

           July 20: A projects manager and father of a two-year-old, Mr Chua Loong Wai, 32, suffered spinal
         injuries and died at the scene when a rain tree fell on his Honda Freed at the junction of Thomson
         Hills Drive and Yio Chu Kang Road at around 2pm.
           June 25: Two people were hurt when a khaya senegalensis tree fell across four lanes of traffic on
         the Central Expressway.

         The woman suffered bruises, while the man's left hand was injured.

           June 24: A 59-year-old cabby escaped with only a minor abrasion on his chest after a tree branch
         broke off and pierced the windscreen on the driver's side of the taxi.

         The driver was alone in the cab when the incident happened at the junction of Depot Road and Depot
         Close that morning.

         Expect heavy rain at the weekend

         THERE were no reports of flooding yesterday despite rain falling in many parts of Singapore for most
         of the day.

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         But with heavy rainstorms forecast for the next few days, the authorities are bracing themselves for
         floods at the weekend.

         National water agency PUB told The Straits Times yesterday that it has placed some 90 staff on 24-
         hour standby, in anticipation of any flash floods.

         'PUB's contractors are also cleaning and inspecting drains around the island, with 360 contractor staff
         on standby, ready for activation at any time,' said a spokesman.

         The National Environment Agency (NEA) said the southern parts of Singapore received the most
         amount of rain yesterday, with Sentosa and Orchard recording 82.2mm and 50.8mm of rain

         It added that the wet conditions yesterday were due to a Sumatra squall, which developed on
         Wednesday night around Sumatra or the Malacca Strait, bringing thunderstorms and heavy rain.

         But going into the weekend, the main concern is the effects of Typhoon Chanthu being felt here.

         Chanthu hit China's south-west coast with full force yesterday, sweeping through Guangdong
         province and Hainan Island.

         Meteorologists expect it to pick up force as it makes its way over the South China Sea.

         The damp conditions have been exacerbated by the La Nina effect, associated with wetter weather,
         storms, droughts and cyclones, said experts.

         Singapore is presently in the south-west monsoon season, which lasts until around October. The
         season is characterised by short, but heavy, rain periods lasting around 30 minutes.

         But usually, there is less rain and warmer temperatures during this period, compared to the generally
         wetter and cooler north-east monsoon, which starts in December.

         Sumatra squalls are also known to be common during the south-west monsoons, typically bringing
         gusty winds of between 40kmh and 80kmh.

         Floods a part of life for some
         But inundation last week among the worst
         they have experienced

         WHEN operations manager Parmjit Singh arrived at Telok Kurau Secondary School last Saturday and
         found the carpark flooded, he was not entirely surprised.

         It had happened before on June 25, when the water reached mid-calf level. But this time, it was
         almost knee-high, and had entered the ground-floor classrooms.

         While floods are a yearly occurrence for the school, last Saturday marked the first time the water
         reached knee level in its 44-year history.

         National water agency PUB sends an SMS flood alert to school operations managers, but nothing
         allegedly got through to Mr Singh. Instead, it was the school security guard who sounded the alarm.

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         'We got lucky with the last two floods because they happened on days when lessons were not on,' Mr
         Singh said of the deluge last Saturday and on June 25.

         Flash floods have been part of life for residents and shop owners in areas such as Tai Seng Drive,
         Kampong Ampat at Macpherson and certain stretches of Upper Thomson Road. But for many, the
         flooding from Saturday's downpour was one of the worst they had experienced.

         At the Jamiyah Children's Home, a stone's throw from Telok Kurau Secondary, wet pillows and
         mattresses were still drying in the sun on Tuesday.

         The home for underprivileged children had been dealing with floods for the past three years.

         But last Saturday, flood water entered the building for the first time. Children had to be woken early
         in the morning and evacuated to higher ground as water poured into their bedrooms, senior social
         worker Zainon Haron said.

         She hopes that with the worsening flood situation, the home's planned move to new premises will be

         One street away, the lingering musk of damp clothes and equipment still hung in the air at Key
         Power, a sports shop specialising in gear for triathletes. Owner Robert Lu estimated that last
         Saturday's flood cost him $200,000 in damage.

         He shifted his goods to the front of the Changi Road shop as the June 25 floods hit the rear storage
         and office areas.

         But last Saturday, the front was not spared. Bicycles, sports shoes and apparel were soaked and
         stained by muddy water.

         Staff were airing damp gear three days later. The delivery van remained stalled outside with water
         still on its floor mats.

         Mr Lu has has had enough. 'This is the second time I am filing an insurance claim due to flood
         damage. I am probably going to move to another location when I can.'

         Over at Upper Thomson Road, the slip road along a row of popular shophouse eateries was raised
         about six months ago, and the drains were widened. Still, some outlets were hit by water at almost
         knee level last month, and again last Saturday.

         'All the chairs and tables were washed into the shop along with rubbish from the drains. The water
         even reached the kitchen at the back,' said Mr Syed Rizwan, 27, a waiter at The Roti Prata House.

         He has experienced flooding five times in the seven years he has worked there.

         Flooding is also not new to Mr Thomas Leong, 40, branch manager of the Stamford Tyres workshop
         at the Kampong Ampat and Macpherson Road junction.

         'We regard it as normal when we see the road flooding. The water almost comes into the shop, but
         so far, we have been lucky,' he said.

         Members of Parliament for these areas are working with the authorities on solutions.

         Mr Hri Kumar Nair, MP for the Thomson ward in Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC, said PUB has assured that
         drains in Thomson will be widened.

         Similarly, Dr Fatimah Lateef, MP for the Geylang Serai ward in Marine Parade GRC, met PUB officials
         last week to discuss flood alleviation in areas such as Kampong Ampat and Tai Seng Drive.

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         Mr Liang Eng Hwa, MP for Zhenghua ward in Holland-Bukit Timah GRC, has arranged for residents
         who were affected by floods last Saturday to meet National Environment Agency and PUB officials
         tomorrow morning.

         He said two neighbourhood committees have suggestions to upgrade drains in the area.

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