One moment they were running for cover from the heavy rain, and the next, Bucky Hussain and his two-year-old daughter found themselves in the deep murky waters at Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve, in danger of being pulled underwater.
In an Instagram post on Tuesday (Jan 24) Hussain shared about the ordeal that his family of four went through on the afternoon of Monday, the second day of the Chinese New Year.
The 33-year-old described carrying his daughter Ashley as they made their way across a bridge over a storm drain “connecting the tidal ponds to Sungei Buloh Besar”, in a bid to get away from the torrential downpour.
His wife, carrying their son, followed behind them at Sungei Buloh.
Suddenly, Hussain felt his whole body sink — “I was inhaling water”, he shared. He and his daughter had fallen through a gaping hole in the bridge of Sungei Buloh, which was obscured by the “3 to 5cm” of muddy water that covered the floorboards.
The next few seconds proved harrowing as Hussain held on tightly to his daughter and tried to prevent the currents from pulling them both underwater.
“I couldn’t feel the bottom, and if I let go we were going to be sucked under the bridge,” described Hussain of the terrifying moment, as he felt his legs being “swept away in the fast-flowing water”.
Eventually, Hussain shared that he managed to pull himself up onto the bridge, as a group of passers-by helped to carry his daughter to safety.
The group of “twenty-somethings” also led the rest of the family across the “remaining planks on the bridge” to the other side, stated Hussain.
Reflecting on the incident, he wrote: “Thanks to a lifetime near the ocean and hundred hours of diving, I’ve been in enough bad currents, riptides, and sketchy situations to know that we were seconds away from drowning. Seconds.”
While he suffered some “material losses”, including a damaged camera and a pair of sunglasses that were swept away, Hussain was thankful that his family was safe.
“I’ve got some bad cuts and bruises, I think half the Sungei is in my stomach/lungs and I’m mentally rattled, but otherwise we’re okay.”
‘Real problem begins’
Hussain stated that he and his wife decided to stay behind for a while longer to warn others about the dangerous situation, although attempts to patch the hole in the floorboards failed, he shared.
Later on, however, the “real problem” began, said Hussain, as their bid to get attention from the authorities proved frustrating.
In his Instagram post, Hussain called out the National Parks Board (NParks) and the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) for their handling of the issue; the former for their lack of staff and an emergency hotline, and the latter over the lack of protocol for “preventive action”.
Sharing how the response from an SCDF operator after dialling the 995 hotline “left them in shock”, he said they were told that they had the wrong number and their case should be “addressed to the right agency”.
“Assuming some day [they] don’t want to pass the buck and want to actually perform their duty of Civil Defence, there has to be a number we can dial for preventive action. ‘Sorry wrong agency’ is unacceptable for a civil defence force, and I don’t care what the manual says,” added Hussain.
Call taker ‘could have done better’
And after a long wait to get through to the NParks hotline for the nature reserve, Hussain and his wife eventually managed to contact personnel at another visitor centre to the area, only to be told “casually” that they’d look into it.
Noted Hussain: “The person, after confirming the issue is not at Eagle Point (which tells me there is a similar issue at Eagle Point), casually said ‘oh ok… I’ll go and take a look lah’.”
In a statement received by AsiaOne, the SCDF confirmed that they had received a call on Jan 23 at 12.10pm and that an SCDF call taker had replied that the caller “had dialled the wrong number and explained that calling 995 was to request for an emergency vehicle”.
The SCDF stated that upon review, they assessed that the call taker “could have done better” in managing the case by “reassuring the caller that the SCDF would immediately follow-up on the issue with the appropriate agency”, “even though the 995 hotline is for reporting emergencies such as a medical or fire incident”.
“SCDF has since contacted the caller and expressed our regret in how the matter was handled. The caller appreciated SCDF’s follow-up. Moving forward, SCDF will review its 995 call taking protocols in handling such reports by members of the public and improve from it,” the statement added.
Area cordoned off, says NParks
In its response to CNA on Wednesday (Jan 25), NParks stated that it was aware of the incident.
CNA quoted NParks group director of conservation Lim Liang Jim as saying that the area “was cordoned off following the incident, and the gap has been closed off after the water receded”.
Lim added that NParks is “currently monitoring the water levels in the reserve closely and will undertake temporary closure to sections that may be subject to intermittent flooding”.
In an update on Tuesday, Hussain shared that the hole in the bridge has since been fixed, praising NParks “for the swift action”.
Speaking to AsiaOne, Hussain, who’s listed on his LinkedIn profile as a regional strategy and operations manager at Google, shared: “I think NParks have done a fantastic job mobilising quickly to resolve the issue. They’ve also constantly communicated with me.”
At the end of his post, Hussain also included a note to remind parents to be vigilant at all times.
“Nobody will save your children but you… when something does happen, you need to be able to react, and react fast.
“Parents who are always on your phones or distracted around your kids, just don’t.”