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Shabana Begum and Thomas Loke
The Straits Times
January 26, 2023
A cordoned-off area at the Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve reopened to the public on Thursday, three days after a man and his daughter fell through a hole in a bridge caused by heavy rain and overflowing water that dislodged the floor panels.
National Parks Board (NParks) group director for conservation Lim Liang Jim said the hole was patched up after the water receded, and no other missing panels or gaps were found in the park.
With the rest of the Chinese New Year period expected to see prolonged downpours, Mr Lim added that NParks staff are closely monitoring water levels in the reserve, and will temporarily close areas that could be subject to intermittent flooding.
On Monday, the second day of the Chinese New Year holidays, Mr Bucky Hussain, 33, his wife and their two children were taking a stroll at the wetland reserve, which they visit frequently.
Mr Hussain, who works in sales strategy at Google, said that it began to pour at close to noon.
Rushing to leave the nature park, Mr Hussain and his wife grabbed their children and started across the bridge, which was ankle-deep in water.
The walkway crosses a sluice gate that controls discharge from the Buloh Besar River into the sea.
A wide hole in the middle of the bridge where there were missing panels was not visible, and Mr Hussain and his two-year-old daughter, Ashley, plunged into the raging water below.
“I instinctively grabbed my daughter and pushed her up to the surface so she’d be above water. I was underwater, gulping a lot of the water. I couldn’t feel the ground... the current was very strong,” he told The Straits Times in a phone call on Thursday.
His wife, carrying their four-year-old son, stood above them in shock.
Mr Hussain used his free arm to hold onto a stable plank on the bridge and his right leg felt concrete – the submerged pillars of the bridge.
“To fight the current and climb back to land, I pressed my leg against the concrete and pushed up, while holding my daughter. A group of passers-by who were a few metres behind us on the bridge grabbed Ashley.”
Mr Hussain then hauled himself back up onto the bridge, suffering a large bruise on his ribs, scratches on his arms and cuts on his thigh. Ashley was unhurt.
The whole ordeal lasted at most two minutes, but it felt like a lifetime, he said.
His family and the passers-by stayed at the bridge to warn visitors about the hole. They also tried to cover it up with stray planks, but the wooden pieces kept floating away on the flooded walkway.
He added: “I’m a strong swimmer, trained as a lifeguard, but I would not have survived in that water. I think the hole was bigger than a manhole.”
They then walked to the Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve Wetland Centre, but found it empty on the public holiday. The family learnt later that the only employee on duty that day was on the other side of the wetland reserve, attending to other visitors.
Several calls to an available hotline number went unanswered.
“I then rang 995. It was the only number we could think of. But the SCDF (Singapore Civil Defence Force) operator said if we did not need an emergency ambulance, we should address this to the right agency.”
Mr Hussain later posted an update on social media saying that SCDF apologised to him for how the operator had handled the call.
Finally, their call to the hotline went through. The staff member came rushing back and checked on the walkway.
Mr Hussain’s wife also e-mailed NParks about the incident.
Mr Hussain said that on Wednesday night, he received a call from an NParks director to inform him that the site had been cordoned off and engineers engaged to repair the bridge.
The director also said the wetland reserve would implement longer-term preventive measures to avoid structural problems caused by inclement weather, and that staff would work on displaying a helpline number more prominently in the park.
The walkway crosses a sluice gate that controls discharge from the Buloh Besar River into the sea. PHOTO: SHIN MIN DAILY NEWS
Mr Lim said the overflowing waters at the peak of the spring tide, coupled with heavy rain, had dislodged the floor panels, creating the hole.
He added: “We have reached out to the family to thank them for helping to inform other park visitors about the gap and notifying our staff of the situation to rectify it.”
On Thursday morning, the area was still cordoned off while workers made final inspections of the floor panels.
Though Mr Hussain’s wounds and cuts are healing, he remains shaken by the ordeal.
“I’ve been through many dangerous close calls growing up that have not affected me as much. But this involved my daughter and family.
“I keep replaying in my head how things could have gone wrong.”