Villagers stay strong, vow to rebuild Sungai Lembing

Fire and Rescue Department officers continuing their investigation into the cause of the fire that burned down a century-old row of shops and houses in Sungai Lembing, Pahang, on Saturday. (Bernama pic)

KUANTAN: Villagers of Sungai Lembing have resolved to stay strong and rebuild their lives and homes after being put to the test in a horrific fire on Saturday which razed 32 buildings and is believed to have taken the lives of an elderly couple.

A victim, Kong Swee Leng, 65, whose two-storey provision shop was destroyed, said she would rebuild again on the same site. The shophouse, comprising a shop on the ground floor and living quarters above, represented the sole legacy of her late husband.

“I have lived here for more than 50 years after getting married so it is of great sentimental value to me. I have nowhere else to go,” she explained, speaking at the Chinese primary school hall which serves as a temporary relief centre.

She hoped the state government would give the affected villagers a grant to help them rebuild, as Sungai Lembing, formerly a tin mining village, is a heritage area.

The razed buildings are believed to be about 100 years old and comprised 20 two-storey shophouses, 11 single-storey terrace houses and a library.

While waiting for her property to be rebuilt, Kong plans to stay at the homes of her children and relatives on a rotational basis, “so I don’t have to inconvenience them for too long”.

Chang Fam Meng @ Chen Fam Meng, 83, who has lived alone in the home left by her parents, is unfazed about rebuilding her life because she said residents in the village looked out for each other and were kind-hearted, with help coming from so many well-wishers, apart from the government.

Another villager, Yong Siew Meng, 43, is planning to rebuild a replica of the family home which she just lost, explaining that the placement of the row of wooden shophouses and single-storey terrace houses in the middle of Sungai Lembing, was in itself a symbol of the identity of the village, and among the reasons why tourists visited the area.

Pahang Fire and Rescue Department deputy director Ismail Abdul Ghani said the search for Ho Yok Fun, 74, suspected to have perished in the fire with his wife, had been temporarily stopped as no new lead had been found as at 3.15pm today.

“Until now, we have used four sniffer dogs to search for the victim and to also help locate the source of the fire,” he said, adding that investigations had been handed over to the police to pursue a missing person line of inquiry.

In their search yesterday following the blaze, firemen found a charred body believed to be that of Ho’s wife Chow Kim Mui, 70, because of a woman’s accessories found with the remains. The authorities are awaiting forensic investigations and DNA tests to be completed.