Out with the hoard: 5 cleaners take 5 days to clear 10.5 tonnes of filth from Toa Payoh flat
They were dubbed the terror hoarders of Lorong 8 Toa Payoh, stirring fear and disgust with their aggressive behaviour and unhygienic practices.
But on Saturday, the "terrors" - a family of three - appeared subdued as they waited patiently at the void deck of the block.
Their flat was in the final stages of disinfection after a five-day process of clearing their hoarded items, fumigating and washing.
The family also promised grassroots leaders that they would maintain the condition of their spruced-up flat.
The clean-up was initiated by their Potong Pasir MP, Mr Sitoh Yih Pin, over concerns of public hygiene and possible fire hazard. It was a joint operation coordinated by the HDB and it involved the National Environment Agency (NEA), the Potong Pasir Town Council and the police.
The trash disposed of amounted to 10.5 tonnes, said Mr Sitoh. But the process had a rough start.
Last Monday, a 55-year-old woman and a 20-year-old man became aggressive when cleaners removed things from a four-room flat on the 18th storey.
The New Paper reported on Wednesday that they were arrested by police for disorderly behaviour and later released on bail.
The flat belongs to a frail 91-year-old woman who suffers from dementia and is wheel-chair bound.
The two people arrested were her daughter-in-law and her grandson.
Mr Sitoh said he had been approached by other family members of the elderly woman, who were concerned that she was living in unsanitary conditions with the hoarded items.
Neighbours had complained of pests and a stench from the flat.
The elderly woman lives with her 64-year-old son, her daughter-in-law and her grandson because their own four-room flat on the 20th storey was also filled with hoarded items.
Only one of the couple's three sons, a 34-year-old, lives in the 20th-storey flat. Their eldest, 35, died of cancer last year.
When approached, the elderly woman's son, who wanted to be known only as Mr Tan, a driver, got upset and said that he had been unfairly portrayed.
Neighbours had told TNP that they were afraid of the family, who were fierce and would shout at people for merely glancing at them.
Mr Tan claimed that he had been wrongly accused.
He said: "These rumours started because my mother's other children are eyeing her flat. They want to sell it and split the proceeds."
His mother moved into the Toa Payoh flat in 1974 and had lived with her husband, a rag-and-bone man, until he died in 2005.
She has two daughters and three sons.
Mr Tan's wife, a housewife who wanted to be known only as Madam Wee, said: "Some of these items belong to my father-in-law. Why should we clear them so that they can sell the flat?"
Mr Tan's younger brother refuted these claims.
The 58-year-old taxi driver said: "If my brother's words are to be believed, the sun will set in the east.
"We all have our own homes and have no intention of selling our mother's flat."
He said their father had not been a hoarder although he had been a rag-and-bone man.
"My father would take things home to sort before selling them. Those things you see in my mother's flat belong to my brother," he said.
"He is the one who is after our mother's flat because he has run out of space in his own flat."
Family resisted clean-up
ASSISTED: The 91-year-old flat owner with her daughter (right) and a social worker (left).
For two days, the family were uncooperative and hysterical, stopping the cleaners from clearing their rubbish.
But on the third day, the 20-year-old son had a sudden change of heart. He told his mother that he didn't want the hoarded items anymore.
From then on, the clean-up process became easier, said Mr Chua Kian Meng, 57, chairman of the Citizen's Consultative Committee of Potong Pasir.
The mother and son were known to roam the neighbourhood for items they thought had value.
During the clean-up, items such as newspapers dating back to the 1990s, four guitars and many pots and pans were discovered.
It took five contract workers working eight hours daily over almost five days to clear the flat of more than 10 tonnes of trash.
Last Friday, the flat was sealed and fumigated. On Saturday morning, about 10 grassroots volunteers helped with the final touches to the flat.
They bought four 1.5 litres of disinfectant and two bottles of detergent to clean up the flat.
Before the professional cleaners used a spray-jet to wash the flat, the volunteers, including their MP, Mr Sitoh Yih Pin, used scrapers to scrub the filth and cockroach eggs from the grey walls of the flat.
Mr Chua, who has been volunteering at Potong Pasir for the past 15 years, knows the family well.
He intends to continue to monitor the situation and ensure they do not return to their old ways.
"It is important that they realise that hoarding is wrong and will affect the hygiene of the family."