Tampines residents worry about more sunshades collapsing
by Wan Ting Koh
RESIDENTS of the Tampines flat where a concrete sunshade partially dislodged late last week are worried that the other sunshades might give way too, given that the area is a neighbourhood centre with a thronging thoroughfare on the ground floor.
On Sunday morning (Sept 25), a 5m-long concrete sunshade outside a fourth-floor flat at Block 201E, Tampines Street 23 dislodged partially and landed on the corner of the sunshade of the floor below.
Although no one was hurt, it gave residents quite the scare, and now residents are afraid that other sunshades – at least seven on the same facade – might follow suit.
When we visited the area this morning, renovation works unrelated to the dislodged sunshade were being carried out on the slabs of the ground floor directly below where the sunshade had been. The area, which is in between block 201E and a coffee shop, was cordoned off by barricades from the ongoing works.
The flat where the sunshade dislodged was a part of a cluster of four-storey high flats with shops on the ground floor. Block 201E in particular was facing a popular coffee shop, Gong Xi 21. Three other blocks in the area, Block 201A, 201B and 201D also have sunshades installed on at least one facade of the flat.
Residents said they were worried about passersby who might get hurt if other sunshades were dislodged.
Madam Phang Siew Chin, 50, a resident who stays on the fourth floor of Block 201E was tidying her house when the incident happened. She recalled running out immediately upon hearing the loud boom on Sunday morning.
“It is best if they can remove the one on third floor soon. I’m worried that if there’s strong wind and rain it might fall cause it was already hit,” the factory worker said in Mandarin, adding that it was lucky that the ground floor area beneath the sunshade had been inaccessible due to ongoing renovation works. The third floor sunshade that was hit is currently secured by tension cords.
She was one of the residents who had received a letter from the town council after the incident. The letter, dated Sept 26, was from the Tampines Town Council and informed residents of an impending visual inspection of the sunshades. It didn’t say when the inspection would take place.
The letter added: “We wish to assure you that this is a precautionary check and does not mean that the building is structurally unsafe.”
For Madam Noraishah Rashid, 31, whose unit was adjacent to the one with the dislodged sunshade, two town council staff had arrived to inspect the sunshade outside her living room window on Monday (Sept 26), though they didn’t tell her the results of their 10 to 15 minute inspection.
“They didn’t mention anything so we are not sure what is going to happen next. It would be nice if they could tell us,” said Madam Noraishah.
The housewife added that it was the first time something of this magnitude had occurred since she moved there as a baby in 1985. She had only seen cracks on the living room and bedroom ceiling, though that problem was solved earlier this year.
“We are quite worried because anything can happen to my side. I have a four-year-old son and I don’t want anything to happen to him,” she added.
A resident from another block within the cluster said that the possibility of other sunshades falling worried her as many people frequented the area for its market and coffee shops. Madam Kamisah, who only goes by one name, added that she was walking around the area doing her shopping on the day the sunshade became dislodged.
“Every Sunday I walk there so I’m worried. It’s quite dangerous,” said the 53-year-old housewife.
The incident on Sunday has raised speculation on whether the structure was supported by a reinforcement bar, or rebar for short, and how it could have dislodged if it were.
Mr Philip Lee, a civil engineer from Ah Boon Civil Engineering & Building Contractor said that for external structures like the sunshade, a reinforcement bar “must be used” as the concrete was not strong enough to stand by itself.
A rebar, which is inserted into a structure to reinforce it, is usually made of steel and can be part of the flat’s structure as well. Mr Lee gave an example: the sunshade’s rebar could be attached to the one within the ceiling of the flat. If that was the case, there was no chance for it to dislodge, said Mr Lee.
“You cannot have one without the other. The concrete block takes compression while the rebar takes the tension. Even though they are opposite properties, they complement each other,” said Mr Lee, highlighting that both concrete and steel had to be used “together”.
He added: “If the rebar was not there, I am puzzled why the sunshade took so long to drop.”
In responding to queries about the matter, HDB said: “This feature is non-structural in nature, and will not affect the building’s structural integrity. HDB engineers have inspected the block and ascertained that the building is structurally safe.”
“HDB has been working with Tampines Town Council to check the four blocks with similar sun breakers (i.e. Blocks 201A, 201B, 201D and 201E). Visual inspection at these four blocks has been completed and no physical signs of cracks were found. Further checks using scanning equipment will also be carried out,” it added.
HDB also said it is currently looking into whether the sunshade was installed properly and will “recommend suitable follow-up measures” after the investigation.
Update: This report has been edited to include the Housing Development Board’s response.
Featured image and photo by Najeer Yusof .
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