LCQ16: Gas explosion at Tsui Chuk Garden
Following is a question by the Hon Li Wah-ming and a written reply by the Secretary for Housing, Planning and Lands, Mr Michael Suen, in the Legislative Council today (November 27):
A serious incident of gas explosion which caused a blaze took place at Tsui Chuk Garden on 30th last month. After the fire was put out, the Police sealed off the entire building temporarily, pending inspection on the structural safety of the building by staff of the Buildings Department ("BD"). I saw that the BD staff did not arrive at the scene until nine o'clock in the evening, which was six hours after the incident. Moreover, I learnt that such staff and the most senior police officers there were not of the ranks authorized to issue premises closure orders. In this regard, will the Government inform this Council of:
(a) the reasons for the BD staff's taking as long as six hours after the incident to arrive at the scene;
(b) the reasons for BD and the Police not having sent to the scene senior officers who were authorized to issue the relevant orders, so as to avoid delays in follow-up actions; and
(c) the department responsible for on-site co-ordination that day; and the established mechanism for determining the department to be tasked with co-ordinating such unforeseen events?
In accordance with section 27 of the Buildings Ordinance (Chapter 123), a closure order of a building is made by the Court. Nevertheless, the Court did not make any building closure order in the Tsui Chuk Garden incident.
As regards the three parts of the question, our reply is as follows.
(a) The Duty Officer of the Buildings Department received a notification by the Police at 7.46 pm on October 30 requesting an officer of the Buildings Department to attend the scene for an inspection of the building concerned. The Duty Officer arrived at the scene at 9.21 pm.
(b) Generally speaking, the Buildings Department assigns professional Duty Officers to attend the scene and assess the building safety conditions after receiving reports of emergency incidents which may affect building safety.
With respect to the Tsui Chuk Garden incident, the Police had already taken action to temporarily evacuate the residents of the whole building when the Duty Officer of the Buildings Department arrived at the scene. Following an inspection of the affected building, the Duty Officer of the Buildings Department considered that there was no building structural danger overall. However, for the more immediately affected 14th, 15th and 16th floors, more thorough inspection and assessment had to be carried out to ascertain whether there was any localized structural problem. Therefore, the next morning, the Buildings Department dispatched officers to conduct detailed inspections. The inspections confirmed that there was no problem with the structural safety of the three floors.
All Duty Officers of the Buildings Department possess sufficient professional qualification and experience to handle the relevant emergency matters at the scene. The question of inappropriateness of ranking of the officer concerned does not arise.
As regards the action taken by the Police, under section 2 of the Fire Investigation Ordinance (Chapter 12), a Police officer at the rank of Superintendent or above may take possession of any premises in which a fire has occurred and place it under police guard until released by the written order of a Magistrate in accordance with section 6A of the Ordinance. Exercise of these powers should normally be confined to fires of doubtful or suspicious origin, i.e. fires suspected to have been caused by arson or to have involved any other criminal offence, or the cause of which cannot be determined after initial investigation.
On October 30, 2002, the Police Divisional Commander of Tsz Wan Shan (at the Superintendent rank) attended the scene shortly after the incident and ordered the premises in question, i.e. only 15th Floor of Block 2 of Tsui Chuk Garden, once cleared by Fire Services Department, to be placed under Police guard for investigation due to the suspicious cause of the fire in accordance with section 2 of the Fire Investigation Ordinance. Upon the conclusion of investigation at the scene, the Police immediately applied to a magistrate to release the premises under section 6A of the Fire Investigation Ordinance. The order was issued at noon on November 2, 2002.
(c) In this incident, the Fire Services Department was responsible for rescuing trapped people, fighting fires and providing first aid to injured persons at the scene whilst the Police were responsible for crowd and traffic control, providing escort of injured persons to hospital, and maintaining law and order in the affected area. Throughout this incident, the Police maintained close liaison with the Fire Services Department and Wong Tai Sin District Office of the Home Affairs Department.
The Home Affairs Department co-ordinates and oversees the setting up of an Inter-departmental Help Desk at the scene of major emergency incidents for providing emergency relief services. On the day of the gas explosion incident, the Wong Tai Sin District Office immediately co-ordinated the setting up of the inter-departmental help desk, registered households affected by the incidents and offered assistance. A hotline service was also set up to handle public enquiries.
End/Wednesday, November 27, 2002