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Monday, 09 July 2018 00:00

Reaching Out to Sungai Rengit Fire Victims

Written by  Cheong Siew Wai & Tsze Hut Sea,Pengerang / Translated by Ong Mooi Lin

Fire victim, Koe He Chooi, donated the relief cash he received back to Tzu Chi to help those who are more in need. [Photograph by Cheong Siew Wai]

A merciless blaze destroyed three old shop-houses at Pengerang, and took away the lives of a senior couple, who ran an electrical appliance shop. Upon receipt of the news, Tzu Chi volunteers were mobilized to assess the situation and comfort the fire victims.


“Fire! Fire!” Loud screaming and honking from cars from the street at pitch-dark night, woke the residents from their sleep. A fire broke out at around 3 am on July 8, 2018, and destroyed three old single-storey shop-houses situated on Jalan Hee Seng, Sungai Rengit. It also affected a grocery shop in an adjacent 4-storey building, and a few vehicles parked in front of the shop-houses.

The blaze also took the lives of a Chinese couple in their 70s, who had run an electrical appliance business there for 40-plus years. That night, the senior couple slept overnight at the attic, and could not escape in time.

When the fire broke out, some youngsters were watching the Football World Cup at a 24-hour shop opposite the affected shop-houses. They tried to put out the fire with fire extinguishers when they spotted the thick smoke from the shop-houses, but the blaze was uncontrollable with explosions. As much as they wanted to save the victims, they could only look on helplessly.

Due to the intense blaze, the firefighters who rushed to the scene only managed to extinguish the fire after three hours. The cause of the fire and total losses are still under investigation.

Volunteers mobilized for timely relief

A volunteer in Pengerang, Heng Kwe Lang, woke up at 5 am that morning and learnt about the fire incident. She then headed for the fire site and discovered that the couple who perished in the blaze were Tzu Chi donors. She immediately notified a staff of Tzu Chi Kota Tinggi, Tsze Hut Sea, about the tragedy and volunteers were mobilized for assessment and relief work.

At 11 am that same day, eight volunteers arrived at the fire scene, while the firefighters were still trying to extinguish the fire completely, and smoke could still be seen emitting from the burnt shop-houses. Volunteers responded quickly by assessing the damages, comforting the victims, and presenting to them blessing ornaments to calm their minds.

Heng Chun Chai, son of the affected grocery shop owner, said that he was woken by the loud honking from cars and screams. When he realized that the adjacent shop-house was on fire, he quickly woke and alerted his parents and family members to run for their lives.

He said, “In that desperate moment, we could not save anything even though we wanted to.” Chun Chai revealed that the walls and furniture in his house on the upper floor of the shop house were blackened by the smoke, and some electrical items had melted in the intense heat. He was, however, relieved that all his family members were safe and they could resume their business after a few days’ rest.

Possessions and lives vanished in the blaze

The unexpected fire caught the victims off guard and they could only watch helplessly as all that they had worked hard for decades had vanished in minutes.

Koe He Chooi, owner of a motorcycle accessories and repair shop, who had operated the business for 40 years sighed helplessly, “I have been working hard since young, and now, what I have worked for all my life were destroyed in the fire.” He rushed to his shop upon receiving the news, to witness in despair the fruits of his lifetime hard work vanishing before his eyes. He accepted the unforeseen crisis with a heavy heart, but is determined to face the challenges ahead with courage as life still goes on no matter what.

Ko Tek Engong, who had been operating an air-conditioner service and electrical item repair business for 30 years, arrived at the fire scene to witness all his goods and the fruit of his lifetime hard work burnt to ashes. Although feeling sad, he said, “Life goes on. I will face the reality with a positive attitude and look for a new means of livelihood.” The losses incurred in the tragedy were quite substantial. Without any income for the time being, Tek Engong must start everything from scratch again. He was grateful for the timely care and support extended by volunteers, and promised to face challenges ahead with a positive outlook.

The residents felt sad and sorry for the demise of the elderly couple, who were kind and hardworking. The deceased’s son, Chong Chun Yet rushed to the spot but regrettably, he was unable to rescue his beloved parents. His parents were used to sleeping in the rented shop, and would only return home occasionally during weekends. Even though Chun Yet had taken over the family business, his parents were happy to help out at the shop to pass their time.

Reciprocating the love received

After assessing and compiling the list of victims, nine volunteers went to Pengerang the following evening to distribute cash aid to the affected households, as well as, to pay respect to the deceased and comfort their family members. They also conveyed the love and blessings from Master Cheng Yen and global Tzu Chi volunteers, hoping that the kin of the deceased would feel supported and stay strong. Chun Yet appreciated the volunteers’ caring gestures, and for coming all the way from Kota Tinggi to send their condolences in the spirit of Great Love.

That same evening, a cash relief distribution was also held at the residence of He Chooi. Two of the affected households who received the cash aid decided to pay forward the love they received by donating the cash back to Tzu Chi.

“I am still able to cope financially for now. I hope that Tzu Chi will use this money to help those who are more in need.” Fire victim, He Chooi was touched by the care and concern extended by the volunteers. It was comforting for him to feel that there were people who cared. He has had no dependent as his five grown-up children are working, and he does not need much. Hence, he donated the cash received back to Tzu Chi to help others.

Having learnt that Tzu Chi’s Charity Fund comes from public donations, and since his loss was manageable and that he could resume his business the following day, another victim, Chun Chai, also decided to donate the cash he received back to Tzu Chi, to spread the kindness around.

There is still love and warmth in the world. Tzu Chi volunteers will be there whenever and wherever the needs arise. With sincere care, it is hoped that the victims will feel warm in the heart despite the adversity.


 

A fire broke out at around 3 am on July 8, 2018, and destroyed three old shop-houses situated on Jalan Hee Seng, Sungai Rengit. [Photograph by Chong Li Juin]   Although all his goods were burnt to ashes, fire victim, Ko Tek Engong, said that he will face the adversity with a positive outlook. [Photograph by Cheong Siew Wai]

A fire broke out at around 3 am on July 8, 2018, and destroyed three old shop-houses situated on Jalan Hee Seng, Sungai Rengit. [Photograph by Chong Li Juin]
 
Although all his goods were burnt to ashes, fire victim, Ko Tek Engong, said that he will face the adversity with a positive outlook. [Photograph by Cheong Siew Wai]
 
Due to a blackout during the cash relief distribution event, volunteers had to use portable lamps to continue the distribution so that the affected households could receive timely aid. [Photograph by Chong Li Juin]   Volunteers conveyed their condolences to Chong Chun Yet (2nd left), son of an elderly couple who perished in the fire. [Photograph by Chong Li Juin]

Due to a blackout during the cash relief distribution event, volunteers had to use portable lamps to continue the distribution so that the affected households could receive timely aid. [Photograph by Chong Li Juin]
 
 
Volunteers conveyed their condolences to Chong Chun Yet (2nd left), son of an elderly couple who perished in the fire. [Photograph by Chong Li Juin]