by: Shawn Danker/

Sunday, June 5th 2011. Most Singaporeans awoke to be greeted by heavy downpour that they thought was great weather for sleeping in. Tenants in the Tanglin area of Orchard Road faced a very different scenario. Tanglin Mall, Forum Galleria, the St Regis residences and several other areas of the island were hit by flash flooding with mostly no advance warning given. The PUB blamed a technical glitch that prevented the flood warning from reaching the tenants of Tanglin Mall and St Regis residences as they were inundated that morning. The question that begs to be asked from this matter is: Even if the flood warning had worked as intended, would it have made a difference to the people affected in Orchard Road?

Let me paint for you a picture of what could have happened that morning: The flood levels along that stretch of Orchard Road rose fast, thanks to the ongoing downpour and inadequate drainage. An early warning alarm would have mostly benefited the residents of St Regis who could hop into their cars and drive towards higher ground. The tenants of affected malls would not be so lucky as there would be no time or even the means to move their inventory, let alone sandbag their mall in an attempt to prevent the water from breaching the premises. One uninsured private vendor from Tanglin Mall remarked, “Her instinct would be to grab her products and run.” A building that was flood free for over 15 years, was suddenly impacted although the ‘torrent’ was nowhere near the recorded high of rainfall for the month of June (67mm vs. 378.7mm).

What are some of the consequences that arose from the flood that drenched Tanglin Mall and Forum Galleria?

Financial Losses

  • A water logged and damaged inventory is a wasted resource that has to be underwritten.
  • The time, energy and money business owners spent cleaning up after the flood resulted in missed opportunity costs and significant sales losses for small business.

Structural Damage

  • Water logged stores could suffer from some form of structural damage due to extended exposure to water. The most ‘at risk’ shops are the ones on the lower levels of the affected malls as water flows and pools at the lowest point of a structure. This results in problems such as rotting, toxic mold, and possibly eventual replacement.

Insurance Cost and Implications

  • Tanglin Mall’s Cold Storage ceiling collapsed and it was fixed in 2 days. The repairs were covered by insurance but other shop owners might not have adequate insurance to cover their repairs.
  • Since insurance was used by most of the businesses to cover the losses from their damaged inventory, premiums for the area are going to dramatically increase because the location is now deemed flood prone and a risk to insure. If the malls pay for the insurance does this mean that the management is going to increase the rent? If the tenants pay it, then their business expenses will increase. Either way it is the small business owners who suffer.

Orchard Road Business Association’s Complaint

  • ORBA is justified in slamming PUB in its failure to provide adequate advance warning of the oncoming flood. PUB should have already known that the stakes of failure were high from last year’s Orchard Road floods. It is hard to believe that PUB was caught off guard again, considering that PUB has had access to years of historical data to analyze and predict any future flooding incidents.
  • It would have been helpful to have civil engineers, in particular PUB Chief Khoo Teck Chye around to address the devastation first hand. By being the first high-ranking official to be on scene, Dr Vivien Balakrishnan became the face of the issue and his presence became a rallying point for the tenants. His appearance was certainly commendable where in contrast PUB’s absence spoke volumes about the agency taking ownership over an issue that falls under their jurisdiction.
  • What probably stings the most is the lack of any form of apology from PUB on its failure to prevent the flood, or the lack of any aid rendered aside from being told that the glitch with the warning system will be rectified and they will look into improving existing infrastructure.
  • If financial aid is out of the question, then PUB should at least pay to hire one off workers to help with the post flood clean up and disposal of damaged goods. The management of Tanglin Mall probably paid to clean up the mess in the public area of the building, but that still left the tenants basically paying for someone else’s mistake.

Does anyone think this is fair?

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