Anger as sudden No 8 jams transport

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 11 August, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 11 August, 2007, 12:00am

Storm signal goes up earlier than expected

The Observatory came under fire yesterday for giving little advance warning that typhoon signal No 8 would be raised, and the Transport Department faced criticism after people rushing home jammed train stations, bus stops and ferry terminals.

One man drowned when he and a colleague fell 30 metres into the sea in Tuen Mun after a section of scaffolding they were erecting under a flyover on Castle Peak Road was blown away. Hospitals saw 16 people treated for injuries connected with the storm.

The No8 signal for Tropical Storm Pabuk was raised at 2.30pm, an hour earlier than expected and just two hours after the No3 signal had been hoisted.

A Transport Department spokeswoman said public transport operators had tried to get people home.

The department relied on the Observatory for when to hoist a higher signal, she said.

The MTR Corporation and the KCRC had been warned to expect the No8 signal by 3.30pm.

'We started to make arrangements for enhanced services, summoning drivers. The signal was hoisted earlier than expected,' said a spokeswoman for the Kowloon-Canton Railway Corporation.

The MTR implemented crowd controls, mainly at Sheung Wan and Central stations, by closing entry gates to control the flow of passengers. By 4pm, all stations had implemented crowd controls.

Democratic Party legislator Fred Li Wah-ming said: 'I think the Observatory did not give us enough preparation. I was quite shocked.'

At Central MTR station, thousands of passengers were packed inside. Some fainted and others felt ill amid the crush.

Mandy Lo, who lives in Sha Tin, had to wait an hour to board a train.

'There were only public broadcasts about the partial closure of escalators and ticket machines. But no one ever said a word about why we were waiting. People started to complain about poor ventilation,' Ms Lo said. 'Someone near me fainted. One woman shouted 'I can't breathe', as she tried to force her way onto a train.'

Hong Kong soccer player Lee Kin-wo, who lives in Peng Chau, was among those stranded at the Central ferry piers.

In Sha Tin, people queued in the middle of the road for buses towards Tuen Mun, despite heavy traffic.

Connie Lo Hong-yan, who boarded a bus to Sha Tin at Yau Ma Tei, said: 'People were so packed at the bus stops, and each bus stop is so close to each other, that you couldn't tell which bus they were waiting for.'

Spencer Ma Wai-pong, a business owner, questioned the logic of providing advance warning of a No8 signal but requiring staff to stay at work until the signal is hoisted.

Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce chief executive Alex Fong Chi-wai said problems tended to arise when typhoon signals changed in the middle of the day.

Most transport links returned to normal last night after the No 8 signal was lowered at 9.40pm.

Phone networks were overloaded. The volume of calls on PCCW's fixed-line network was five times the average and that on its mobile network four times the average.

While the chaos it wrought may not have been amusing, the name of the storm raised a chuckle from resident Andrius Paskus. He said pabuk was Lithuanian slang for 'to stay for awhile'. 'When it passed us on Wednesday, I said to myself 'too bad it did not live up to its name'.'

Mary Ann Benitez, Martin Wong, Loretta Fong, Dennis Eng and Lilian Goh