Shanghai officials pass the typhoon test

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 11 August, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 15 August, 2012, 11:23pm


Shanghai's preparedness to face a typhoon that smashed into eastern China this week has reinforced the financial centre's reputation as the mainland's most developed city.

Typhoon Haikui was one of the severest typhoons to hit Shanghai in recent years. At least three people were killed, 30,000 trees collapsed, houses were damaged and more than 370,000 people evacuated.

Despite the damage, Haikui did not paralyse the city because Shanghai was well prepared.

On Wednesday, the day the typhoon hit land, 8,800 firemen were on duty, 500 rain patrol workers and 3,000 drainage workers were on standby, and 9,000 staff from electricity companies were sent out to combat blackouts, according to official figures.

Shanghai people welcomed the precautions taken by the government.

'The government's typhoon measures have improved compared to previous times,' said Zhang Jianguo, a transport worker.

Shanghai appears to have learned a lesson from Beijing, which was widely criticised for its handling of a deluge on July 21 that killed about 80 people and exposed the capital's defencelessness against torrential rain and flooding, especially in rural areas.

After the tragedy in Beijing, Shanghai realised the need to improve its disaster prevention capabilities. Five days before Haikui struck, Shanghai initiated an anti-typhoon programme and increased inter-departmental communication, Hu Xin, an official from Shanghai's flood prevention office, told the Oriental Morning Post.

'Since typhoon Matsa in 2005, our whole flood prevention system has continued to improve,' he said. 'For example, there are now more channels for releasing news to the public.'

In many ways, Shanghai can learn from Hong Kong's experience in typhoon management. Hong Kong has a detailed typhoon signal system that is familiar to all residents and the city won praise last month for the way it handled the impact of Severe Typhoon Vicente, the strongest storm to hit Guangdong in 13 years, with no fatalities reported.

This week, Shanghai had typhoon arrangements in place comparable to those of Hong Kong.

Shanghai also performed well in the transparent release of information about the typhoon, with the government repeatedly warning the public of its severity through traditional media outlets and the internet.

There were also updates about the typhoon situation broadcast on the subway.

The contingency measures taken in Shanghai also showed the government had made safety a priority.

Although there was no official typhoon leave on Wednesday, Shanghai announced that work units could arrange holidays or flexible working hours.

Public transport services continued as normal, except for parts of some subway lines, and taxi drivers who were tempted to demand higher fares were warned they could have their licences revoked.

When typhoons hit Hong Kong, many bus services are suspended and taxi drivers are likely to raise fares.

However, Haikui did not give Shanghai a real test. The typhoon did not hit land in Shanghai but in its southern neighbour Ningbo in Zhejiang .

Heavy rain fell intermittently on Wednesday, but that was enough to inundate 400 roads in Shanghai's city centre. High water levels were recorded in many rivers in Shanghai, with drains backing up and contributing to the blocking of roads.

It is fair to assume that the whole city could be brought to a standstill in the event of a direct hit by a typhoon.

'If it rained for two hours non-stop, the streets would be like a river, just like what happened in Beijing,' said Wu Kesheng, a convenience store owner in North Wulumuqi Road, a low-lying road in central Shanghai that is prone to severe flooding after heavy rain.

The public will wait and see how Shanghai will fare in the next disaster.