Lightning city

Tropical weather makes Singapore one of the world's lightning capitals
Feng Zengkun & Kezia Toh Straits Times 22 Nov 11;

THEY were watching television when the lightning bolt struck.

First, the family heard a clap of thunder, followed shortly afterwards by the clatter of tiles falling from the roof.

When the owner, who wanted to be known only as Ms Loh, went outside to investigate, she was horrified to see smoke rising from her three-storey house. 'The roof was smouldering,' she said.

The bolt, which struck last week, had torn up two tiles and burned through the heat insulation.

Ms Loh and her family, whose terraced house is on Frankel Terrace in Siglap, called the Singapore Civil Defence Force. They now face a wait for their insurance payment.

Yet it seems that they are not the only ones in this predicament. 'The insurance people actually told me that this is not uncommon,' said Ms Loh. 'They have seen this happen in private houses in Bukit Timah as well.'

Experts told The Straits Times that while incidents like this are rare, they do happen - especially as Singapore is one of the lightning capitals of the world.

The Republic has 0.35 lightning deaths per million people each year on average, compared to 0.2 in Britain and 0.6 in the United States.

It also experiences an average of 186 days of lightning per year, according to the National Environment Agency (NEA). This is due to the tropical weather conditions. Each square kilometre of land here can be struck up to 16 times each year.

This month - along with April and May - is one of the most lightning-prone because of the intense inter-monsoon weather conditions.

Last Saturday, two men were struck while fishing at Coney Island. One is dead and the other is in Changi General Hospital's intensive care unit.

Government agencies told The Straits Times that most public places are protected. For example, devices are fitted to the top of floodlight towers at stadiums. Public pools are equipped with lightning rods and the management is instructed to check the three-hourly storm forecasts on NEA's website.

Buildings, observation towers and other structures meant to house people are also supposed to be shielded by law. Gazebos in parks, for example, have metal roofs and are 'earthed' with thick metal strips to make them lightning-proof.

To protect children who are too young to understand the risks, the agency and the Education Ministry introduced an SMS alert system in 2007.

This tells school administrators and physical education department heads about the lightning risks in the neighbourhood and in areas where students are on excursion.

But experts said there are gaps in Singapore's lightning protection shield, such as the fact the SMS alert system is not available to the public.

They said it should at least be extended to other safety professionals such as lifeguards at beaches and pools. These guards should be instructed to evacuate the public once they receive the alerts.

'Unless someone asks them to get out of the place, people are likely to indulge and continue going,' said Professor Liew Ah Choy of the National University of Singapore's Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering.

He added that open spaces should have mandatory lightning warning sirens. These are now only recommended in the Singapore lightning protection code.

The code also recommends that lightning detection and warning systems be deployed at temporary, ad-hoc activities such as fun fairs, trade fairs and outdoor events.

More public education is also needed to dispel myths, such as that wearing a raincoat provides protection against lightning, said Prof Liew. 'The electric current in lightning is too strong for that to work,' he added.

The Singapore Civil Defence Force provides a handbook that includes lightning protection advice. To download it, go to www.scdf.gov.sg

Lightning-strike survivor still in intensive care
Victim drifting in and out of consciousness; experts say road to recovery will be long
Elizabeth Soh Straits Times 22 Nov 11;

DISPATCH rider Eng Yang Huat remains in intensive care, drifting in and out of consciousness, two days after being struck by lightning during a fishing trip to Coney Island.

Experts say it is too early to determine if the 41-year-old will recover fully, but most agree it will be a long, drawn out process.

Mr Eng, however, was lucky to have survived. His best friend Tan Guan Yin, 40, who was with him last Saturday, did not.

The two close friends had been fishing on Coney Island off Punggol, when they were caught in a thunderstorm and sought shelter under a tree. But lightning struck, killing Mr Tan instantly and leaving Mr Eng badly burnt.

Mr Tan, a bachelor, was cremated yesterday after his brother returned from Japan to see to the funeral arrangements.

Three of their friends, also fishing enthusiasts, visited Mr Eng at Changi General Hospital yesterday night but declined to speak to the media.

A dermatologist told The Straits Times yesterday that if Mr Eng was badly burnt as a result of being struck by lightning, the injuries to his skin alone will take at least a year to heal.

However, all hope is not lost for Mr Eng, as there are others who have been able to return to living a normal life despite being struck by lightning.

One of them is former school teacher Carolyn Lim, 31.

Five years ago, Madam Lim was struck by lightning when she was windsurfing off East Coast beach.

She was in a coma for six weeks but even after she regained consciousness, she was still unable to walk, talk or feed herself.

'Till now, I have no memory of that day, the accident, or the fortnight after... The subsequent two to three months are also sketchy.' she said.

She fell into depression but with the support of her then boyfriend William Ng and her parents, she managed to pull through and had a rapid recovery.

She also managed to train herself to speak again by reading books aloud - one word at a time - and regained the use of her right hand gradually by first learning how to use a spoon, a fork, and then chopsticks.

Today, Madam Lim is happily married to Mr Ng and is a mother to 14-month-old Isaac. Despite being wheelchair-bound, she carried Isaac for nine months like any other mother-to-be, and gave birth by caesarean section in September last year.

Madam Lim told The Straits Times that she is now focused on being a full-time mother, but she writes a blog and occasionally gives talks to share her experiences with others.

She has even penned a book about her struggle, entitled Making Pink Lemonade, which was published in 2009.

'Instead of dwelling on my misfortune, I prefer to count the blessings I've had since then, there have been many of these.' said Madam Lim.




EASTERN HOTSPOTS

Pasir Ris, March 2011

Insurance manager Tan Boon Kiat, 37, was struck by lightning and died while canoeing at Pasir Ris Park.

Tanah Merah, January 2011

Mr Chen Yuk Fu, 62, was hit while golfing at the 18th hole of the Laguna National Golf and Country Club's Masters course on New Year's Day.

He was hospitalised but survived despite burns to his head, neck and hand.

Tanah Merah, October 2009

Garment company owner Soh Lye Huat, 57, was struck by lightning at the 17th hole of the Tanah Merah Country Club Garden Course.

He went into a coma and died from multiple organ failure two weeks later.

His family sued the club in June this year. They claim that it failed to ensure there were effective procedures in place to warn golfers and others about lightning.

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