GEORGE TOWN: A fire that gutted an entire block of colonial shophouses in Carnarvon Street has left 73 elderly folk living next door in a sorry state.
In their 60s and 80s, these seniors, many of whom are bedridden or wheelchair-bound, were crammed into the indoor badminton courts of the Penang Youth Centre in Lebuh Acheh and Khoo Kongsi’s premises in Cannon Square, while the Wednesday night blaze raged.
They thought their ordeal was over when firemen declared their building safe at 3pm yesterday and they were allowed to return home.
Their relief to be going home was short-lived when they returned to find the place ransacked and at least 10 wheelchairs missing.
Caretaker Koay Chee Kean, 49, cried foul over the missing items yesterday.
“It was chaotic that night when volunteers grabbed wheelchairs and helped move the elderly to safety.
“We went back and looked around for the wheelchairs but couldn’t find them, ” he said.
Koay voiced disappointment that the drawers and closets of the elderly residents were ransacked during the evacuation.
One of the senior citizens, Tan Sew Keong, 67, was dismayed to find he was robbed.
“When I saw the fire outside my room, I left the home immediately. My bag containing cash and personal documents was on the bed. When I came back, the bag was gone, ” he said.
Tan said he did not suspect his three roommates because they were all bedridden.
The state government and Buddhist Tzu Chi Merit Society provided the elderly folk with air-conditioning, beds, meals and medical attention after they were evacuated.
Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow and several assemblymen also helped.
Over 10 fire engines put out the fire in half an hour after it started at about 9pm. Firemen continued dousing the smoking ruins until yesterday afternoon.
The shophouses were occupied by a liquor store, a distributor of paper and stationery and the management office of a jewellery and gemstone dealer.
Khor Keng Chai, 71, who has spent about 50 years working in the jewellery office, said it was the first fire incident there.
“Fortunately, we don’t store gold and diamonds here any more and the shophouse is only an office, ” he said.
Bernama reported that four firemen were injured when one of the walls between the shophouses collapsed.
Penang Fire and Rescue Department director Saadon Mokhtar said the injured were a fireman from Bagan Jermal Fire and Rescue Station and three volunteer fire squad members who helped put out the fire.
“Fortunately, their injuries were not serious and all four, in their 30s, were sent to Penang Hospital and were stable, ” he said.