Gas blast inquest hears of confusion

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 19 June, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 19 June, 2007, 12:00am

Coroner told of lapses in reporting

A coroner's hearing into the deaths of two elderly women in an explosion almost two hours after a gas leak was reported outside their flat was told yesterday of a breakdown in communications.

The severe leak was detected in a pipe under the street near the Ngau Tau Kok residential block, the inquest was told, but the building itself was not checked before the blast, despite complaints of a strong gas smell inside.

Liu Lock-chan, 89, and Eap Kwun, 92, died in the explosion on April 11 last year in the Wai King Building, at the junction of Jordan Valley North Road and Ngau Tau Kok Road.

The explosion occurred at 2.30pm, after a gas technician cut off a gas supply outside the block at 1.10pm, the court heard.

A recorded call made by security guard Lam Fuk-fai to the Towngas hotline at 12.22 pm was played in the coroner's court. The guard could be heard telling the operator that a strong smell of gas had started to float around the lobby at about 11.45am.

Mr Lam was put through to the emergency controller and told him the smell of gas filled 'the lobby, lifts and entrance'. He also told the controller, Wong Siu-tung, that the proprietor of a nearby newsstand and residents walking into the block had complained about the smell.

Mr Lam, who left the building because he felt dizzy from inhaling the gas, said no firemen or Towngas staff had spoken to him or entered the building to conduct any checks.

After Mr Lam's call, Mr Wong, who later classified the case as an uncontrollable gas leak, informed the fire department to answer a gas leakage complaint at 3 Jordan Valley North Road and said the suspected leak was at the 'roadside'.

A call from the fire department to police said the leak was 'at the bus stop' on Jordan Valley North Road.

Mr Wong said he believed the gas leak was outside the building, based on the information from Mr Lam, which he said was given 'in a quite disorganised manner'.

He later admitted he did not tell firemen about the complaint of a gas smell inside the building. But he insisted he had informed an engineer, who was later sent to the scene, of Mr Lam's report.

Engineer Hon Yuet-bor told the inquest he was not given this information nor had a fireman who had asked him to check the building.

Mr Hon reached the scene at 12.45pm and he found the leak within three minutes using a gas detector.

He said he found high concentration of gas near two manholes on the road opposite Wai King Building and the adjacent Hang Seng Bank, and also at a crack in a section of the same road near some manholes. He believed there was a leak from an underground pipe.

At 1.10pm, he switched off three valves to cut off the gas supply to the leaking pipe and there was an obvious reduction of gas in the air. He said he did not know why there was an explosion at 2.30pm.

The 10-day inquest, which began yesterday before coroner Michael Chan Pik-kiu, continues tomorrow at Eastern Court.