Typhoon Hato, Signal 10, brought with it not only the wrath of nature but anger, sadness and disappointment from our community. The lack of preparation, slow warning systems, shoddy construction and low-quality building materials, failure of backup systems for essential services and the tragedy of people out in the elements, either stuck unprepared or moving about unaware of the dangers – these should not have been part of our response.
Hato was the worst typhoon on local record. It was going to be a bad one, not just because of its ferocity but because Macau has been lulled into a false sense of security. “Weather-related fatalities are a rare occurrence in the territory” was a message repeated in the media as if to partly express shock in the rising death toll, and partly to exemplify how unusually terrifying this typhoon was. We seem to have a deep-seated belief in our typhoon invincibility. Are they never too big for us because we are especially anointed, especially resilient, or do we just trust that the authorities have safeguarded our wellbeing?
This time Macau’s complacency, it’s faith in its security and emergency management systems brought it to its knees. An explanation we are likely to hear is that this one was just too big, even for us.
Many were quick to blame the government – for not communicating swiftly enough resulting in poor souls becoming stranded in carparks coming home too late; being ill-prepared without supplies of water or food; with no windows taped. The government was blamed for failing to baton down the city, for over-reliance on interconnected utility systems and insufficient back-up. CTM must be congratulated for maintaining communication even while other public utilities failed.
Angry also are those that doubt the moral integrity of businesses who opportunistically attempted to profiteer. Stories were told of bottles of water usually sold for MOP8 priced at $20, $75 or even $200. Hotel rooms have been advertised at over MOP9,000 per night. Examples of morally corrupt practices swiftly hit the airwaves.
Pictures of casinos illuminated in all their shining glory while the rest of Macau was plunged into black-out darkness told of contrasting worlds in this one tiny region.
Where there are examples of limits to human experience and imagination, there are also many who have filled the gaps. Where there have been people complaining and waiting for the government to do or say something, there are others who have simply got out there and done what they could do to help. When there were those bemoaning the heat, relieved as they switched on precious electricity to cool themselves, there were others ferrying buckets of water from street hoses to their neighbours.
Macau has a renewed faith in their police, firemen and security services seen working together to clear the shallow-rooted trees and debris strewn across the region and coming to aid of the many in need. The resilient old folk got up early the next morning to clear their neighbourhoods. Companies put volunteer teams together to support the clean-up, and all sorts of individuals were begging to know how they could help.
Aside from the public security services, the best coordinated efforts seemed to be community based. By yesterday, the Macao New Chinese Youth Organisation had over 500 student and young volunteers across 5 areas of Macau cleaning up. Their calls for backup and support were welcomed and enthusiastically acted upon.
For these civic minded individuals, complacency is not in their vocabulary, and their ethics are strong. Thus, we are reminded of the many worlds in our little community. May this extraordinary event prompt us all to be a little bit better, a little more civic minded, a little more imaginative and wise, and pressure our leaders to be the same.