Traffic jam delayed rescue of flood victim

PUBLISHED : Friday, 16 September, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 16 September, 2011, 12:00am

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An elderly man drowned in his village home that was flooded by a once-in-50-years downpour while rescuers were stuck in traffic, the Coroner's Court heard yesterday.

The sobbing widow of Lee Yiu-jo, 72, told how her husband was left stranded in his house in Ying Pun village, Sheung Shui, on July 22 last year as her calls for help went unheeded.

'We made three to four emergency calls but no one came to my husband's rescue even after half an hour,' Wong Hung-cheung told the inquest into Lee's death.

The court heard that Lee died on the day that typhoon Chanthu triggered widespread flooding across the New Territories. An amber rainstorm signal was issued at 4.35pm and was raised to a black alert - the highest - within an hour.

Villagers said the three drains in the village were blocked by wooden planks and other waste used in a government drainage improvement project, causing the river level to rise quickly.

Wong said a downpour hit the village at 5pm when she was cooking outside and her husband was resting inside.

'The water rose quickly, it reached my knees very soon,' she said. She shouted for help and asked her neighbours to call police.

Villager Wong Kwai-shan told the court the water reached his knees within a minute.

Thinking that the river was rising unusually fast, he dashed into it and found that the drains were blocked by planks. 'I pulled more than 10 planks from the drains but it was useless. The water continued to rush towards me. I felt that I could not do anything to help,' he said.

Lee's wife told him her husband was stuck in the house, probably because he had hurt himself when he tripped over the night before.

Wong Kwai-shan told the court: 'In the house, the water was up to my waist. My hand grabbed something soft. It was like cotton. But I soon realised that it was the deceased's head.'

He carried Lee to a table and tried repeatedly to resuscitate him.

Fireman Chow Shun-kit said serious traffic congestion along Fan Kam Road had forced him and his team to abandon their fire engine and walk to the village.

He received the call at 6.34pm and arrived at the village at about 6.50pm. They saved a couple before they got to Lee at 7.20pm.

An autopsy found Lee died of drowning.

Chau Tak-chi, a former employee at Mott MacDonald, which oversaw the drainage improvement work in the village, said the system at the time of the flood could handle just a one-in-10-year flood.

'The village drainage system could not drain such a large amount of rainwater,' Chau said.

Chau said 121 millimetres of rain fell in an hour that afternoon, the heaviest in the area in 27 years.

Lee's daughter, Lee Sau-foon, said she believed the wooden planks left by the firm had blocked the drains, causing the flood.

The inquest continues today.