Before the mid-1960s, Singapore was very prone to floods. The situation was especially bad during the monsoon season when rain is heavy and prolonged. Since those early years, the Government has done a lot to improve the drainage system and reduce the flood-prone areas from 3178 hectares in the 1970s to only about 134 hectares now. Even so, our national water agency PUB still issues flood advisories - the last one was only as recent as in April this year.
People who stayed in kampongs at that time were particularly hard hit by the floods. You could be forgiven if you thought that Singapore was hit by a giant tsunami:
Flood waters that turned a kampong into a kelong
A living room that became a huge bathroom
A policeman rescuing a boy in a kampong near the Police Training School along Thomson Road
Even city folks were not spared the wrath of the floods. The following two photos dated 13 Nov 1964 show the flood situation in the Telok Blangah area. Ironically, Singapore had water rationing in the 7 months just prior to this flood:
It was fortunate that we lived on the fourth and topmost floor of an SIT (Singapore Improvement Trust) flat. Hence we were relatively unaffected by the floods. However, I remember a bad flood in 1965 when my sister Lilian was studying in Sec 1 in Whitley Secondary School. I interviewed her for this story:
My school was located at the junction of Whitley Road and Dunearn Road. (The building has since been torn down and replaced by Singapore Chinese Girls' School.) I was in the morning session. The rain probably started sometime in the morning not long after I had arrived in school on a Green Bus.
By the time we were dismissed at around 1 pm, the flood waters around the school had risen to more than 1 metre deep. As the roads around the school were not passable to vehicular traffic, all bus services were suspended. All pupils from the morning session were instructed to assemble in the canteen and wait for the flood to subside. It was a long wait - we were stranded in our own school.
The rain continued to pour and we were cold and hungry. None of us were prepared for this to happen. Most of us had brought only enough pocket money to buy food during recess. In any case, by the time the afternoon recess was over, most of the stalls had run out of food. To make matters worse, there was no public phone in the school. Even if there was, most families did not own a telephone then so there was no way to contact them. I could only hope that my parents were kept informed via media reports.
Nightfall came and still there was no sign of relief. The passage of time seemed excruciatingly slow in such circumstances. After what felt like ages, help finally came at 9 pm - in the form of an army 3-tonner. Somehow, the men-in-green could always be counted on for emergencies like this. I boarded the truck gratefully with scores of other school mates. That was my first and last time that I rode in a 3-tonner. Although the ride was not very comfortable, I can safely say that it was the best ride I ever had in my life. I had to alight at the Rex Cinema and walk another 15 minutes back to my home in Cheng Yan Place near Queen Street.
It is indeed a good thing that we now have Civil Defence exercises to prepare for such eventualities even though that Singapore is now less prone to such massive floods. Thanks goodness and the Government.
That was a story on how we used to walk on water, rather unwillingly. Therefore, I still cannot bring myself to understand how "walking on water" has now become such a privilege that it can be used to sell a condominium.
Thanks to my sister for the above story and also to National Archives of Singapore which supplied all the photos used in this post.