August to remember

Paulo Coutinho

The chief of the weather bureau, Fong Soi Kun, was fired for good reason. But I don’t agree with the government’s justification. Actually, he should have resigned a long time ago, not because he is incompetent, I don’t think he is, but because he failed disgracefully to perform his duty, putting political interests, more or less vested, before the interests and the safety of the community. Instead of safeguarding the public, he was, apparently, safeguarding his back. As the saying goes, if you can’t stand the heat stay out of the kitchen.

This wasn’t the first time, far from it, but this time he ran out of luck, and his failure to comply with explicit and strict laws and regulations on how to deal with warnings in the face of a tropical storm was tragic.

Warning signals are meant to warn, otherwise they defeat the purpose. When signal 10 was hoisted last Wednesday, close to midday, the eye of typhoon Hato was virtually over our heads.

That is why The South China Morning Post apologized last week for their constant criticism of the HK Observatory scrupulously complying with the law when it came to forecasting.

“Our next thoughts might be to forgive the Hong Kong Observatory for all the No 8 typhoon signals and the subsequent city shutdowns and inconvenience we have moaned about over the years when nothing much actually happened. Macau’s ordeal has underlined the virtue of Hong Kong’s dogged persistence in being prepared for the worst while hoping for the best.”

No city would have escaped without devastation from the furious, powerful force of typhoon Hato, but a decent forecast system would have helped minimize the damage. I tend to agree that Mr Fong was but a scapegoat for lack of political accountability for deeper problems in a city that has developed as fast as Hato’s winds over the past 15 years while some ground rules were bent or skipped in the process.

I’m talking for example, of glass windows shattering all over town, in what became a “trade mark” of typhoon Hato’s work. Something must be very wrong when you see entire skyscrapers recently built – and even some labeled as quality construction – with their windows shattered.

Legal requirements for glass windows clearly state that the glass must be strong enough to withstand wind speeds of 240 kmh (for a ten-meter building) to 290 kmh, depending on the height of the construction. Do you believe that this requirement alone has been met by greedy developers lately? I have my doubts.

Another point at stake is the apathy of both the authorities and the general public. It’s been 18 years since the last time signal 10 was hoisted, and ever since, until Hato, nature has been kind to Macau. I have seen numerous confessions on social media of people saying they just didn’t care about what the weatherman was saying, and didn’t take precautions. Typhoon 8 just became an extra holiday, and people would even cheer as signals went higher. At the same time, the government didn’t make any effort to inform and educate the newcomers properly about this common natural event of our monsoon season. As in many other things they left it to… luck.

Last but not least, our thoughts are with the victims and with the community that, on the bright side, showed a tremendous sense of solidarity in the face of overwhelming calamity.

Hato marked the end of an era. We have to wait no more for September to remember.

Categories Editorial Macau