Three workers die as sewer burst fills Hong Kong tunnel
Investigation follows a finding the men were not wearing safety belts while laying cable five metres below ground
Three Hong Kong workers died on Monday after a sewer pipe burst and quickly filled an underground tunnel under construction where they were carrying out digging work.
Their deaths sparked an investigation by police and the Labour Department into whether the men were equipped with safety gear. In their rescue attempt, firefighters found the three men were not wearing safety belts.
Under current regulations, workers must test the air in a manhole or a confined space before workers wearing safety belts are allowed inside, according to the Association for the Rights of Industrial Victims.
The three men – Cen Canrong, 23, Fock Kam-chau, 49 and Wu Jianming, 48 – entered the tunnel by way of a manhole five metres deep in the CLP Power site at the junction of Gillies Avenue South and Baker Street, Hung Hom, after their lunch break.
According to Kum Shing Construction, a CLP Power contractor, the three workers were carrying out tunnelling work inside the underground site when the incident happened at about 2.30pm Monday.
“The workers were unable to escape and probably drowned when a nearby sewer suddenly burst and water poured into the tunnel and flooded it,” Chow Luen-kiu, chairman of the Construction Industry Employees General Union, said.
Kum Shing said in a statement: “Sudden groundwater ingress occurred. Despite the immediate warning issued by [the] site supervisor, the workers were unable to evacuate at once due to the rapid rise in water level.”
The Fire Services Department sent 17 engines and six ambulances to the scene. More than 100 firefighters were deployed.
Hung Hom fire station commander, Cheung Kwong-yuen, said the tunnel was 1.4 metres in diameter and filled with water a metre deep. Firefighters detected hydrogen sulphide at the entrance and exit of the tunnel.
Cen and Fock were pulled out of the manhole about 10 minutes after emergency personnel arrived.
Rescue workers in breathing apparatus found Wu inside the tunnel about one hour and 45 minutes later. All three were certified dead at Queen Elizabeth Hospital.
Cheung said they were still investigating the source of the water and gas, adding that Towngas staff had inspected the site and found no leaks.
According to a police source, the tunnel quickly filled with water after a nearby sewer tunnel burst. He added the cause of the rupture remained unknown.
Kum Shing deputy CEO Rex Wong Siu-han, in charge of construction at the site, said the company did not know whether the workers had their safety belts on during the operation, stressing that the accident was unexpected.
He said the company would suspend all trenchless construction already under way and review its safety measures.
Cathen Ho, CLP Power’s acting senior director for power systems, said the company had performed all required measures beforehand to ensure safety for works at the underground site. He added the cable-laying work was scheduled to finish next month and was 70 per cent done prior to the accident.
In a statement, CLP Power said it was “deeply saddened by the death of three contractor workers resulting from an industrial accident which occurred in Hung Hom” on Monday.
“The company would like to express its deepest condolences to the families of the deceased,” it added.
Chow, of the union, said the Labour Department and contractors must now conduct a detailed investigation to find out the cause of the accident.
Kum Shing and Construction Industry Employees General Union were each offering HK$100,000 for an emergency relief fund to help each family of the deceased workers.
The city’s new labour and welfare minister, Dr Law Chi-kwong, appeared to be emotional and holding backing tears after visiting the victims’ families in hospital.
“I felt the pain of the families,” he said on Monday. “I came here today trying our best to comfort them.”
Commissioner for Labour Carlson Chan Ka-shun said at the hospital the department would probe whether the workers were wearing safety belts and whether the duty holders of the site had strictly followed the department’s safety guidelines and laws to conduct a risk assessment before working.
Additional reporting by Danny Mok