Survivors fight to pick up pieces of shattered lives

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 31 January, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 31 January, 2010, 12:00am

The collapse of the five-storey building at 45J Ma Tau Wai Road in To Kwa wan cut several lives short and left displaced residents and survivors struggling to pick up the pieces.

An anxious mother returned to the scene yesterday, hoping beyond hope to find her daughter's dog.

'It is on the second floor, where you can see a closet,' she said, pointing upwards at the mountain of rubble. No barking or any other sound could be heard.

The dog was one of several pets understood to be buried in the debris.

An Indian man evacuated from a building near the collapsed structure and now living at the Holy Carpenter Church centre said he was stuck in Hong Kong and unable to go to India to see his very ill wife.

His air ticket and passport were in his apartment, but it was closed by officials pending a safety inspection. He can't get to them until the Housing Department confirms his block is structurally sound.

His plea somehow reached the ears of Secretary for Labour and Welfare Matthew Cheung Kin-chung, who has promised he will contact the Immigration Department in a bid to resolve the problem.

Another man, who was also staying in the Holy Carpenter Church temporary shelter snapped when asked about his living conditions.

'I haven't even got a towel,' he said angrily, adding that there were not enough blankets to keep him warm at night.

Another resident, who said he had been allowed to return to his apartment at 45D Ma Tau Wai Road, said he was worried about cracks on walls along a corridor.

The owner of a herbal drinks shop near the fallen building said she was deeply saddened by the tragedy.

'I knew the dead and the injured,' she said. Since she started the business with her husband nine years ago, many of those in the neighbourhood had been her customers. 'I don't know their names, but I remember their faces,' she said.

According to Mrs Chan, a young mother who narrowly escaped the tragedy with her 18-month-old daughter, there were four flats on each floor of the fallen building.

Each was about 14 square metres, but some were smaller after being subdivided, she said.

Residents were working class - paying monthly rent of HK$2,000 to HK$3,000 and there were one-woman brothels on each floor. Traces of the sex trade were still visible - erotic posters pinned to scarred walls.

The disaster has touched many in the city. Student Roy Tong Fung-kwok said the tragedy should put life into perspective for more Hongkongers.

'What took place here in Hung Hom and what has happened recently in Haiti should help people get their priorities right,' he said. 'There are more things to life than just work and making money. In Kowloon there are many old buildings so this could happen again.'

The Home Affairs Department has offered displaced residents interim housing in Kwai Chung for three months.

Additional reporting by John Carney