Hato: At least five dead in wake of typhoon devastation

Photo Renato Marques

Macau was left in a state of devastation today (Wednesday) after the strongest typhoon on local record swept past the city, killing at least five people.

Between the early hours of the morning and the late afternoon, the city was lashed by strong gales and heavy rains brought by Typhoon Hato, flooding entire streets and damaging commercial and residential properties.

According to local police reports, at least five deaths have been confirmed. They include a 62-year-old local man who fell from the 11th floor of a residential building, a 30-year-old mainland worker who was swept into a wall by strong winds and a 49-year-old local resident who was run over by a tourism bus.The two others who were confirmed dead yesterday drowned after being trapped in the basement of a shop, without realizing flood water were rising.

Weather-related fatalities are a rare occurrence in the territory even for natural disasters on this scale.

Typhoon Hato approached the Pearl River Delta area from the Philippine Sea yesterday on a trajectory that took it between Taiwan and the northern Philippine island of Luzon. Having made its way into the South China Sea, it curved slightly to the north to make landfall in the mainland’s Guangdong Province, within 50km from the MSAR.

Brushing so close to Macau had a devastating effect on the peninsula and the islands.

Sirens sounded on the streets for the entire day and night as police, ambulance and fire service vehicles battled weather phenomenon to respond to emergency calls. Government services were scrambling to account for losses this evening, but the final human and financial cost of the typhoon remains untallied.

Reports came in throughout the day of uprooted trees, overturned vehicles, broken windows and buildings tops being ripped from their structures. At least one heritage site was confirmed by the Times to have suffered substantial damage – a small reading room on the corner of Rua do Campo and Avenida da Praia Grande – which had its roof torn off.

Reports of damage to the ferry terminals and some of the border checkpoints have been confirmed by authorities. The damage means that these infrastructure facilities will remain close in the near future. Moreover, a picture of the Macau Cultural Center obtained by the Times showed the building’s roof had been bent out of shape.

At a press conference held at 7:30 p.m., police authorities said they had already recorded 168 incidents, including 20 cases of items falling from buildings, 35 case of unhinged signs at risk of falling and at least 36 uprooted trees and snapped electrical cables.

A power cable supplying electricity from Zhuhai to Macau was ruptured around 12:30 p.m., according to utility company CEM, causing a city-wide blackout initially and leaving much of the territory in darkness during the evening.

A statement from CEM in the afternoon reported that the company had reverted to local power generators and that the power supply would gradually be restored. Local power generation normally only accounts for a small proportion of the city’s total power consumption, with the rest provided by the mainland.

In the late evening, many residential and commercial buildings were still without power, and warnings were put in place that the local reserves might not hold.

A second statement issued by CEM to the Times noted that “due to current capacity [being] insufficient for the consumption of the whole of Macau, […] we urge customers who have electricity restored limit the usage to reduce the overall electricity load.”

Mainland authorities reported that they had an insufficient electricity supply to power the MSAR. Local providers are now waiting on updates from their mainland counterparts.

CEM said their priority is “to ensure the stable supply [of electricity] in hospitals and other important public infrastructure.”

The resort to emergency power reserves affected other services in the territory too.

At 7 p.m., telecommunications provider CTM sent an SMS to its service users warning that the lack of electricity supply was affecting its communication infrastructure.

“CTM will start to use its own back-up electricity supply soon in order for the communication service to run normally,” the message read. “The back-up electricity supply at CTM will expire soon, as it has been running since this morning. Communication services may be interrupted. CTM will try to maintain normal operations under the circumstances.”

The provision of water services was cut to some parts of the city this evening as a consequence of limited electrical power. By 9 p.m., reports reached MDT of residential buildings that were left without water.

CEM said that the Ilha Verde Water Plant is currently without electricity, but they were working to restore the situation by end of Wednesday.

The Cultural Affairs Bureau informed that many of the venues under its administration will not open today (Thursday), including libraries, heritage sites and exhibition venues.

The winds finally subsided during the late afternoon, providing an opportunity for locals and tourists to venture out onto the street and assess the damage.

Elderly locals were spotted collecting debris and cleaning the streets in some areas. Meanwhile, some business and shops in the Macau ZAPE area and near other tourist sites had reopened by the early evening, in a subdued return to reality.

Macau locals took to social media to praise the work of police, fire and medical services. A government press conference was livestreamed in the evening, but received a critical response from netizens who used emoticons to express their frustration with the government’s planning and response.

“If people think that we didn’t do enough, we can improve in the future,” an official from the Macau Meteorological and Geophysical Bureau (SMG) said at the press conference.

The weather phenomenon was flagged as a Signal 10 – the highest category warning in the territory and the first such warning since the 1999 handover – only after the city had been subject to hours of intense rain and wind.

The SMG had hoisted Signal 3 starting from 3 a.m. in the morning, which was elevated to Signal 8 around 9 a.m., when most people were due to begin work. A notice had been posted on the SMG website from 6 a.m., warning that the elevation to Signal 8 was highly likely.

Aside from essential public services, many employees are not required to go to work when a Signal 8 or higher warning is issued by the SMG. Schools in the territory close under such conditions.

The Times will be back on the stands on Friday, August 25, with further coverage of the story.

By Daniel Beitler, Renato Marques, Lynzy Valles & Julie Zhu, with additional reporting by Paulo Coutinho

Photos by Renato Marques

[UPDATED @ 11:58pm]
Categories Breaking News Macau