Jurong West fire victims fear for their livelihood
Yong tau foo seller whose stall was destroyed in Jurong West blaze lost $10,000 and worries about supporting his wheelchair-bound wife, diabetic son and his family
At the ripe old age of 81, he's still the breadwinner of his family.
He used to earn enough money selling uncooked yong tau foo at a wet market stall to support himself and his wheelchair-bound wife.
Then, about a month ago, he also started supporting his diabetic son, who had to quit his job as a delivery driver after his right leg was amputated, and his family.
AT A LOSS: Mr Neo Chwee Eng, who had a yong tau foo stall at Block 493. TNP PHOTO: JEREMY LONG
But Mr Neo Chwee Eng is now at his wit's end on how to continue making a living after his stall went up in smoke in the huge blaze that destroyed a wet market and coffee shop at Block 493, Jurong West Street 41.
A coffee shop at adjoining Block 494 was also badly damaged in the fire that broke out at around 2.45am on Tuesday.
Mr Neo told The New Paper yesterday that he was heading to his stall at Block 493 at around 3am on Tuesday to prepare for the day's business when a woman alerted him to the fire.
"The fire was very big. I ran away because I was scared that there would be explosions," he said in Mandarin.
He estimated his loss from the fire to be about $10,000. It cost him $700 a month to rent the stall.
"At my age, I should probably have retired already. It's very tough to continue working, but I have to support my family," he said.
He takes pride that his stall, which he has had for almost 20 years, sold yong tau foo mostly at 10 cents a piece, which is much cheaper than at other stalls.
His pricing attracts around 200 customers, mostly regulars, to his stall daily.
But selling the items at such a low price also means that he makes very little profit, Mr Neo said.
"I'll be lucky if I can make $200 a day," he added.
Like the other affected stallholders, he has no idea what the immediate future holds for him.
While he hopes that he can resume his business at another location, he is also worried he might lose most of his regular customers.
Mr Neo said that his 78-year-old wife became wheelchair-bound after a fall several years ago. She also has heart disease, which costs a fair bit in medical bills.
"She sees the doctor one to two times a month, and each time, the medical fees can go up to $400. After Medisave, it'll be around $100," he said.
His son, who is in his 40s and lives on his own with his family, also needs a wheelchair because of his recent leg amputation.
"My son has a wife and two children, one in secondary school and a toddler, to feed. I try to support him as much as I can by paying for their food whenever I have money to spare," Mr Neo said.
Mr Neo, who used to sell fish on a bicycle before selling yong tau foo at the Jurong West market, said he has not much savings because he usually needs to spend whatever he earns.
"For now, I can still survive on my meagre savings. I just hope the authorities can rebuild the market soon."
A total of 46 stalls - 36 in the wet market and 10 in the two coffee shops - were destroyed in the fire.
The Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) was alerted to the fire at 2.45am and put out the fire about 90 minutes later.
SCDF said in a Facebook post on Tuesday: "At the height of the fire, the roof of the wet market collapsed, and the exterior side wall of a coffee shop at Block 494, which was directly facing the raging blaze, sustained fire damage."
When TNP visited the area yesterday, about 15 of the affected stallholders had gathered at Block 395A, next to the scene of the fire, to discuss the loss of their livelihoods and what they could do next.
WORRIED: Stallholders gathered at Block 395A yesterday. TNP PHOTO: JEREMY LONG
An air of uncertainty hung over the area. Hoardings had gone up around the two blocks, denying the stallholders access to their stalls to see if anything could be salvaged.
Jurong GRC Member of Parliament Ang Wei Neng said on Tuesday that he was trying to help the affected stallholders resume their businesses elsewhere, or set up an alternative site nearby for the time being.
One proposed alternative is to set up a temporary wet market and food centre at a new basketball court in front of Block 498 that was constructed in July.
The stallholders are expected to meet Mr Ang and the owners of the market and the coffee shops tonight to discuss the issue.
Some residents of Block 499, a senior citizens' block that overlooks the wet market, told TNP on Tuesday that they had heard a heated argument at around 2.30am, a short while before the fire broke out.
The cause of the fire is under investigation.
They asked me, ‘Mummy, what to do?’ I’m afraid I may not be able to pay their school fees.
— Madam Haw Mui Eng, who sold fishball noodles at the coffee shop
'All of us lost everything overnight'
Madam Noorlin Rahman
SEAFOOD STALL OWNER
Madam Noorlin Rahman, 52, who owns Noorlin Seafood in the coffee shop at Block 494, estimates her loss to be about $3,000 a day.
She has found another place to reopen her stall, but laments that it will not be the same.
She said: "I'm very sad because everyone is very close to each other. Even though I'm in the coffee shop, I get my supplies from the wet market, and they come here for my food. That's how everyone is so close."
Some of her regular customers have called her to ask about her new stall. She serves around 200 customers every day.
"My restaurant had been at this coffee shop for seven years, but we've been in Jurong West for almost 35 years now. We have a lot of regulars who follow us as we move," she said.
Even so, she still fears losing a significant number of her customers.
Madam Haw Mui Eng
FISHBALL NOODLE SELLER
Madam Haw Mui Eng, 47, had sold fishball noodles at the coffee shop at Block 493 for 10 years.
Her two sons, aged 21 and 23, are studying at the Institute of Technical Education and Lasalle College of the Arts respectively.
"They asked me, 'Mummy, what to do?' I'm afraid I may not be able to pay their school fees," she said, tearfully.
"How can we wait for two years for the market and coffee shops to be rebuilt? I don't know how I'm going to make a living and support my kids."
Madam Ng, 45, a tailor at the market, had been there for 18 years. She estimated her loss at about $10,000.
"I still have a family to feed. I have three children at home," she said. Her children, aged 19, 15 and eight, are still studying.
"I'll have to rely on savings now to pay the bills."
She hopes the market and coffee shop can be rebuilt as soon as possible.
She said: "I'm heartbroken because everyone's been here for so long. We know each other very well. All of us lost everything overnight."
Madam Loh Ngok, 61, who had been selling chilli at the market for 30 years, estimated her loss at around $50,000. She supplies chilli to the various stalls in the coffee shops at Blocks 493 and 494.
She told TNP: "I feel very helpless. Everyone has to start from scratch. We're all close to each other so I'm sad for all of us."
She said she is trying to find a part-time job to tide her over this period.