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'We were screaming in pain': Worker recalls Tuas explosion at inquiry hearing

SINGAPORE – Moments after an explosion shook a Tuas industrial building and blew out its window panels, the eight workers who were in the workshop at the time ran to a nearby open field screaming in agony.

Workers from neighbouring units went to splash water and hose down the badly burnt workers.

The brutal experience of the Feb 24 blast at 32E Tuas Avenue 11 was shared by one of the injured workers, Mr Hossain Jitu, 32, before an inquiry committee on Tuesday (Sept 28).

“We were screaming in pain at the open field, and workers from neighbouring units came out and started throwing and spraying water on us using a water hose,” the Bangladeshi national testified.

“I realised my shirt was on fire and part of it had already burned off. I removed what was left of my burning shirt using my left hand.”

Mr Jitu, whose scars were visible beneath his mask in court, suffered burns to 54 per cent of his body and had difficulty breathing and closing his eyes.

“The skin beneath my eyes was burnt and I was unable to close my eyes and sleep after the accident,” he said.

Three workers, Mr Subbaiyan Marimuthu, 38, Mr Anisuzzaman Md, 29, and Mr Shohel Md, 23, died from severe burns that covered 90 per cent of their bodies, while seven other workers, including two who were not in the workshop, were injured.

The inquiry committee, chaired by Senior District Judge Ong Hian Sun, had earlier heard that the explosion is believed to have been linked to a mixer machine.

The workers in the workshop were employed by Stars Engrg, which made an insulation material called fire wrap using the mixer machine. The machine heated up oil in a jacket, which then heated ingredients including potato starch in the mixer component.

Stars Engrg’s sole director, Mr Chua Xing Da, testified earlier that the temperature in the oil jacket was not monitored after the machine was tested on June 12 last year. He separately estimated the temperature of the machine to have been around 700 deg C before the explosion.

Mr Jitu said on Tuesday that when the machine was used for about an hour, he would hear bubbling, boiling sounds inside it. This would continue even after it was turned off.

On the day of the explosion, Mr Jitu and another worker were making the fire wraps at an assembly table between 11am and 11.30am.

“Suddenly, I felt hot oil splash on my face and the top part of my chest. I also heard oil splashing onto the wall above or behind me… I looked up and the whole workshop was on fire and filled with black smoke,” he said.

He ran out of the workshop through the front shutters to an open field.

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Mr Jitu passed out as he was taken to Singapore General Hospital’s burns unit.

He suffered burns on areas, including his back, face, neck, chest, arms and thighs, and underwent multiple skin grafting and plastic surgery procedures.

He continues to receive outpatient care, which includes physiotherapy.

Mr Jitu said he lost strength in his hands after the accident, and cannot open his mouth fully, which has affected his eating. The doctor said that he may have to undergo further surgery on his mouth.

“I could not sleep for many days after I regained consciousness, especially when I heard about my co-workers who passed away. I constantly thought about the fire and got nightmares about it every time I closed my eyes,” said Mr Jitu.

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