The drowning of a 72-year-old man in his Sheung Shui village house in a downpour caused by a typhoon last year was accidental, the Coroner's Court found yesterday.
But Coroner Michael Chan Pik-kiu also ruled that the blockage of a drainage culvert by construction material - ironically used in a government drainage-improvement project - contributed to Lee Yiu-cho's death in July 22 last year when Typhoon Chanthua caused a river to overflow.
The family has applied for legal aid to pursue a claim against the Drainage Services Department.
Chan said the construction debris at Ying Pun Village, including planks and plastic pipes, had 'certain negative effects' on the dispersal of the water, echoing complaints by Lee's angry family members who wanted the department held responsible.
A villager earlier told the court that he had removed more than 10 planks from the drains in a futile attempt to ease the flood.
Lee Sau-foon, the dead man's daughter, said that the family was satisfied with the verdict.
'There is obvious negligence on the part of the Drainage Services Department,' she said.
She said her mother, 78, was still haunted by the flood. 'She is not able to sleep when there is rain or thunder. She wakes up in the middle of the night and picks things up.'
The court heard that the drains in the village could only handle once-in-10-year-level storms at the time of the incident. With the improvement work completing this year, they will be able to cope with once-in-50-year downpours, the court heard.
Chan ruled that when water was rushing downhill to Lee's home, the blockage of the drains caused a backflow, making the water level rise faster at Lee's place.
Observatory records showed that 121mm of rain fell at the village in an hour that afternoon, the heaviest in the area in 27 years. Villagers said the floods were the worst in 40 years.
'The death was caused by the flood and the heavy rain,' Chan said. 'The death was accidental.'
The coroner said he would not make any recommendations to the Drainage Services Department because it had implemented improvement measures after the incident and that the drainage improvement work would be completed soon.
He also said he would not repeat the general recommendations he made during an inquest into the death of a man who was washed away in a flood in Tai Po on the same day. In April, after ruling that Lam Wing-yick, 50, died by accident, Chan called on the department to identify spots with a high risk of flooding and to provide timely warnings.
The court heard earlier that Lee had not been aware of a serious bone fracture he suffered after he tripped over the night before the accident.
A spokesman for the Drainage Services Department said that after the incident it worked with the Observatory to improve the storm-warning system for people living near rivers vulnerable to flooding. It is arranging a survey to assess the flooding risk of watercourses in the New Territories.