02 March 2009

Lightning strikes the Merlion

Here's a clear example of why we should seriously respect lightning.

Witnesses said orange sparks flew when lightning struck the icon of Singapore, and an explosion was heard followed by a loud thud when broken pieces fell to the ground. The merlion lost part of its top left mane and is believed to have its right ear chipped.

What manner of beast is the merlion? Here's more as well as what the soothsayers say the lightning strike portends.

Merlion statue at Singapore River struck by lightning; suffers slight damage
Claire Huang, 938LIVE Channel NewsAsia 28 Feb 09
SINGAPORE: In a rare incident, Singapore's longstanding icon, the original Merlion statue at the mouth of the Singapore River has been struck by lightning.

One witness told MediaCorp Radio's 938LIVE that orange sparks flew when lightning struck between 4 and 5pm at Merlion Park.

Staff in the vicinity said they heard an explosion followed by a loud thud when broken pieces fell to the ground.

About 30 people dashed into a nearby restaurant for safety.

Other onlookers continued to take photos of the 36-year-old tourism icon. - 938LIVE/vm

Merlion damaged by lightning
Huang Huifen, Straits Times 1 Mar 09;
A lightning bolt struck the Merlion statue at about 4.30pm yesterday.

The national icon at One Fullerton facing the Singapore River lost part of its top left mane and is believed to have its right ear chipped.

About 20 to 30 people nearby, including tourists, ran helter-skelter in the pouring rain when debris from the Merlion's head went flying.

Some ran to safety in the nearby shops and cafes.

The fragments fell onto the patio at One Fullerton and the Singapore River Cruise counter near the Merlion.

Nobody was hurt.

Eyewitness Ms Rina Toh, 17,

a barista at The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf at One Fullerton, said: 'I saw a bright Z-shaped lightning bolt, and it was a lot bigger than usual.'

She was standing at the counter and could see the Merlion.

Debris also fell onto the wave form at the base of the Merlion, cracking it. The area has been cordoned off, and the Merlion is now closed.

Ms Jess Toh, 23, who works at bistro Gelare there, said: 'Those who were there looked very scared, their faces were pale.'

The rain stopped at about 6pm and the fragments were cleared

by 7pm by the staff of One Fullerton.

When The Sunday Times arrived at about 7pm, some tourists were seen taking pictures.

The Merlion was spouting water as usual.

'To prevent this from happening again, a lightning antenna should be put in place,' suggested salesman Jackson Sim, 46.

Lightning strikes all too often
Lightning has been detected 186 days per year here, one of the world's highest rates
Grace Chua, Straits Times 3 Mar 09;
THE Merlion statue, which was slightly damaged in a lightning strike last Saturday afternoon, is only one of many structures hit by the frequent lightning storms that zap across Singapore each year.

The country has one of the highest rates of lightning activity in the world as its hot tropical weather is ideal for the formation of storm clouds.

Most lightning dissolves harmlessly into the ground. But if a building is struck, residents can find their power and telecommunications disrupted by the massive surge in electrical current.

An average lightning strike carries a current of up to 200,000 amps. In comparison, a 100-watt bulb carries a current of about 0.4 amp.

Lightning expert Liew Ah Choy of the National University of Singapore's Electrical and Computer Engineering department said that during a lightning strike, 'a current burrows its way into a non-conductive material like concrete or fibreglass, burning and cracking it in the process'.

Lightning can be lethal. In 2004, Jiang Tao, a footballer with Chinese club Sinchi, was killed when he was struck while training at the Jurong Stadium.

Between 1982 and last year, the National Environment Agency's Meteorological Services Division detected lightning on an average of 186 days per year.

And lightning hits each square kilometre of land 12 to 20 times each year.

Because of this, lightning rods on buildings have been mandatory since 1979, as they help intercept lightning bolts.

Under the current Building Regulations, only buildings, observation towers and other structures housing occupants need shielding from lightning. The Merlion, which has no occupants, does not need a lightning rod.

But Professor Liew said the Merlion statue could be too far away from the One Fullerton building to be adequately protected by its lightning rod.

'Anything about 50m away (from protection) is too far,' he said. This is regardless of the height of the protected building.

Code to be updated

THE building code, which governs lightning protection here, will get its first update in 13 years, detailing more information on how to safeguard electronic systems and taller buildings.

The Singapore Lightning Protection Code CP33 was first compiled in 1985 and revised in 1996.

It is used by engineers, electrical contractors and those in the building industry.

Lightning expert Liew Ah Choy, of the National University of Singapore's electrical and computer engineering department, is chairman of the revision committee.

He said an update would be released in about six months. Updates would include more guidelines on how to protect electrical and electronic equipment, which is more widespread and essential than ever, he added.

'There are so many important systems today which depend on electronics,' Prof Liew said.

The updated code will also include new knowledge on risk analysis, and guidelines relevant to the towering buildings of Singapore's ever-rising skyline.


Rare act of nature: 'How about leaving our lightning-struck Merlion as it is?'
Straits Times Forum 3 Mar 09;
MR CHOO KAY WEE: 'I refer to Sunday's report, 'Merlion hit by lightning'. Considering the efficiency of the civil service, the repair to the Merlion will probably be swift. But here is a thought. Would it not be more beneficial if we considered other possibilities arising out of this rare and extraordinary event, instead of applying the obvious solution? How about leaving our lightning-struck Merlion as it is? Would this not generate more curiosity and attract more tourists, local and foreign, because of the rarity of the accident? Would collecting an entrance fee to the site be a clever move as well?'

Lightning expert says Merlion should have lightning rod put in place
Cheryl Lim, Channel NewsAsia 6 Mar 09;
SINGAPORE: Ever since Singapore's beloved tourism icon, the Merlion, was struck by lightning last Saturday, there have been calls for measures to be put in place to ensure similar incidents do not recur.

Repair work is still being carried out on the 36-year-old landmark at the mouth of the Singapore River.

One expert, Professor Liew Ah Choy, from the National University of Singapore's faculty of engineering said the best option would be to place a lightning rod on or near the Merlion.

But he added that any installation would have to be aesthetically pleasing as well.

He said: "One of the suggestions would be to put the lightning rod on top of the Merlion's head. The purpose of this would be to intercept the lightning strike and prevent damage to the Merlion. This, to me, would not be aesthetically pleasing because it would make the Merlion look like a unicorn."

One suggestion is to put a wire mesh on top of the Merlion's head, paint it a similar colour as the statue and have a wire conductor run down the inside of it to ground.

Some tourists said it is a good idea but others said they preferred something else. "I think they should put the lightning rod behind the Merlion," said one man in the street.

Such an option would require building a structure with a lightning conductor but this would have to be close enough to the statue to be effective.

Another suggestion from Professor Liew is to place a lightning warning system near the Merlion to warn people to take cover in a heavy storm.

The Singapore Tourism Board said it will provide an update on the Merlion soon. - CNA/vm

Let the Merlion remain scarred by Nature's strike
Tan Mae Lynn, The New Paper 9 Mar 09;

AUSTRALIA has the kangaroo, New Zealand has the kiwi, Malaysia has the tiger, and Singapore has the Merlion.

So what if the Merlion is mythical?

It is still our national icon.

And going by the buzz in cyberspace after the Merlion got zapped in the head by lightning last Saturday, Singaporeans feel passionately about the creature.

Even if they don't readily admit it.

Think about it, if lightning had struck, say, the chopsticks-like war memorial nearby (assuming the structure doesn't have a lightning conductor) and chipped a portion off its tip, would people care?

Would there be such a flurry of comments in chatrooms about whether this act of nature bodes well or ill?

I doubt it.

So, should we or shouldn't we have put Merlion under cosmetic surgery so quickly?

One forum writer to The Straits Times suggested that the authorities leave the Merlion alone with its head injury, rather than repair it.

The scar, he said, would give it character and may even draw more visitors to the attraction.

I initially found the idea of leaving the Merlion botak absurd.

After all, the Merlion ain't no Leaning Tower of Pisa, which dates back to the 1100s. It's hard to even compare it with the Liberty Bell in Pennsylvania, which dates back to 1752 and is the symbol of the American Revolutionary War. The bell had cracked as it was being tested and the crack remains to this day.

But after much discussion with colleagues, I've changed my stance and now feel that the Merlion could do with some 'character'.

Firstly, the Merlion's new look was courtesy of Mother Nature. The leaning tower of Pisa and the Liberty Bell crack were the results of man-made flaws. And works of nature are more marvellous than human errors.

A botak Merlion could show that we're not stereotypical conformists.

Then, people might ask: What does the zapping symbolise for Singapore?

We're facing our worst recession ever. And the light at the end of the tunnel remains a delusion.

Merlion zapped on its head, aiyoh, bad omen.

Fast forward 100 years to 2109.

The Merlion has green hair (algae) and wears a flourishing crown where the battle scar from fighting off evil economic devils used to be (a tree has grown out of the hole in its head).

Superstitious Singaporeans believe it signifies Singapore's rebound from adversity into prosperous times.

Back to reality in the present day.

Would any other structure in Singapore have generated the same kind of talk?

Probably not. Again, simply because Singaporeans see the Merlion as our national icon.

So, I say, leave it. Not many are fortunate enough to get a make-over courtesy of Mother Nature.

And it will leave a historical milestone for future generations to discuss.

Lightning-struck Merlion expected to re-open in 2 weeks
Channel NewsAsia 10 Mar 09;
SINGAPORE: The Merlion at Merlion Park, closed for repairs after being slightly damaged in a lightning strike, is expected to re-open in two weeks.

Lightning during a heavy downpour on February 28 had caused a piece from the Merlion structure to fall onto the wave form at its base. Nobody was hurt.

The Singapore Tourism Board (STB), together with professional engineers and appointed contractors, have since assessed the incident's impact on the Merlion's structural integrity and the repair works required.
The Merlion has been assessed to be safe and structurally sound. Immediate repair works will involve re-plastering the affected areas on the Merlion. This will start on March 9 and is targeted for completion by March 21.

The wave form at the base of the Merlion will require a longer repair time, to allow the required glass material to be fabricated according to the original specifications.

The STB is consulting relevant contractors on the expected duration for repairing the wave form. Steps will be taken to ensure that the repair works to the wave form will not affect the aesthetics of the Merlion when it re-opens in two weeks.

Designed and built as a sculpture, the Merlion did not include a lightning conductor. However, STB is now studying possible lightning protection measures for the Merlion Park to prevent similar incidents from recurring.- CNA/ir


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