Hong Kong Reels in Wake of 'Pacific Demon' Storm As Coastal Areas Suffer Losses

china-typhoon-mangkhut-sept-2018.jpg People clean debris created by Typhoon Mangkhut on the waterfront in Hong Kong, Sept. 17, 2018.
AP Photo

Hong Kong was left reeling on Monday in the wake of a direct hit from Severe Typhoon Mangkhut, the most intense storm to hit the city since records began in the mid-20th century, scientists said.

According to Hong Kong Observatory senior scientific officer Li Ping-wah, the storm wreaked "considerable damage," as rescue and maintenance workers struggled to clear roads of fallen trees and branches, and schools in the city remained closed.

Video clips posted to social media as the storm hit Hong Kong and southern China showed powerful winds whipping up debris and waves in coastal areas.

The winds were strong enough to blow an air-conditioning unit back into an apartment, tumble a washing-machine on an apartment balcony, and send toilet water cascading upwards into someone's bathroom, according to video clips posted to Twitter, but unverified by RFA.

In other footage, hapless pedestrians were seen flung against a wall by one ferocious gust, while the winds ripped through a construction site, tearing down a crane and making tall buildings sway and their residents "seasick," some reported.

"Mangkhut was very intense, with an initial analysis showing its maximum sustained winds near the center ... reached 250 kilometers per hour (155 miles per hour) [at one point] ... which is the most intense typhoon requiring issuance of the hurricane signal number 10 since 1946," the HKO's Li told reporters.

Mangkhut, which has gained the nickname "Pacific Demon" in the city, was stronger than Super Typhoon Hope, which left 12 people dead in Hong Kong in 1979, he said.

Hong Kong authorities said they had 46 cases of flooding and one landslide, while some 1,500 people made use of temporary shelters and just under 400 people had sought medical treatment at public hospitals.

Mangkhut made landfall in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong, and was downgraded to a tropical storm by Monday afternoon, although it still dumped 426 millimeters (17 inches) of rain on the province, leaving at least four people dead and affecting around half a million, official reports indicated.

Chaotic commute

But parts of Hong Kong, including the Mass Transit Railway (MTR), were left in chaos as commuters struggled to get to their jobs after the storm was downgraded from a Signal 10, which enables employees to miss work without incurring any penalty.

A commuter surnamed Tse said many people were forced to take the bus after the closure of some MTR stations.

"Travel was utterly chaotic today," Tse said. "There were fallen trees and broken branches all around the bus stop, and I had to keep looking up and walk very quickly in case more branches fell."

"It was very dangerous, so I don't think people should have to go to work today, because of the typhoon ... some people couldn't make it to work until the afternoon because of the traffic jams," she said.

Lawmakers hit out at the city's government for failing to declare an emergency holiday.

"It's very clear that there has been no real leadership, and that is the fault of the administration," Civic Party lawmaker Jeremy Tam told RFA.

"[Chief executive] Carrie Lam has been trumpeting the effectiveness of her administration, but this latest storm disaster has made it very clear that this isn't the case," Tam said.

Democratic Party lawmaker Woo Chi-wai agreed, saying the government should have announced a city-wide clean-up day, rather than have people struggle in to work on the morning after the storm.

"I think a lot of employers, regardless of the law, would understand that these are extraordinary circumstances, and cut their employees some slack," Woo said. "I think the government could have done better on this."

But Lam said an arrangement of "mutual accommodation" was better suited to Hong Kong's work ethic.

"If civil servants are having trouble coming to work because of public transport issues, then they just need to call their superior officer, and they won't be marked as absent or forced to take leave," Lam said.
"I call on other employers to extend this approach to their employees, and to make flexible working arrangements."

'Huge losses'

Meanwhile, record-breaking tidal surges were recorded at 12 locations along the south China coast, while 28 small and medium-sized river burst their banks in the southwestern region of Guangxi, official media reported.

Mangkhut wreaked havoc on coastal communities and their fishing industries, according to a resident of Shanwei, in the eastern part of Guangdong.

"The seas are very high, and we have lost all of our fishing boats," the resident said. "A lot of our farmed shrimp are dead; it's horrible."

"We have sustained huge losses here ... there has been no help from the government, and they haven't reconnected the water supply yet; the whole place is without water, and people have a big problem with that," they said.

A resident of Taishan, in the eastern part of the province, said they had no power or water on Monday.

"The winds are still blowing pretty hard and it's raining pretty hard too," the resident said. "It has left us with no water and power outages."

"A lot of shops haven't been able to open for business," they said.

Public anger also erupted on social media after police in Guangdong's provincial capital Guangzhou started ticketing cars left on the street shortly after the storm passed.

Residents said they had been told to take their cars and park them on the street as Mangkhut approached, as the underground carparks in their apartment buildings had a tendency to fill up with water.

"The Guangzhou authorities warned people not to park in underground garages," one resident told RFA. "The garage in our residential compound often floods, so the management office reminded everyone to park on the road if possible."

"No sooner had the typhoon passed over us, than the traffic police were out at 8:30 a.m. issuing parking tickets left and right," the resident said. "You couldn't even drive down the street at that point, and they went out issuing tickets."

Reported by Yang Fan and Gao Feng for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by the Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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