Tai O villagers safe after fire, but where's the money to rebuild?

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 13 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 13 June, 2013, 5:05am

A group of Tai O villagers are appealing to the government to help them rebuild their stilt homes that were razed in a fire last month.

Now, all that remains of a cluster of houses on Kat Hing Street in the Lantau Island fishing village are some thin wooden pillars sticking out of the water.

A fire ripped through the stilt homes - built mainly from wooden planks and metal sheets - on May 2. No one was injured, but 10 families were left homeless.

They moved to temporary flats at the Housing Department's Lung Tin Transit Centre on a public housing estate.

During the Dragon Boat festival yesterday, the first citywide traditional celebration since the blaze, some of the villagers were missing home.

Esther Wong, whose 82-year-old grandmother lost her house, said the villagers were awaiting government permits that would allow them to rebuild their homes, though they had received no indication of when this would happen. Besides, her grandmother simply did not have the cash to rebuild, she said.

"She wants to go home so badly, but it seems quite impossible. Rebuilding a very basic stilt house costs up to HK$300,000. She's just a retiree. If the government doesn't subsidise her, she won't be able to rebuild it."

On the estate, Wong's grandmother and the other villagers do not pay rent or bills, and have the use of basic furniture and appliances supplied by a charity. But the place does not feel much like home. "They are limited in what they can do because they don't have enough money," she said.

A government spokesman said the administration had handed out emergency relief funds and provided temporary accommodation. It would follow up on their needs, he said.