Warnings help Fujian avoid Sepat's worst

PUBLISHED : Monday, 20 August, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 20 August, 2007, 12:00am

Typhoon Sepat swept into Fujian province yesterday, causing extensive economic losses but few casualties, thanks to an early warning to fishermen and residents.

The typhoon, which caused widespread power failures in Taiwan at the weekend, landed in Chongwu township in Quanzhou city with a central wind speed of 118.8km/h and weakened later before it moved towards Jiangxi as a tropical storm.

According to official reports, Sepat brought heavy rainfall to Fujian, with 11 counties, cities and districts recording rainfalls of more than 200mm.

At least two men were killed and one went missing in Minhou county of Fuzhou city when they returned home after spending a night at the evacuation centre. The men were crushed by a collapsing wall.

Xinhua said a total of 1.57 million people in Fujian were affected by the storm and estimated total economic losses at 1.1 billion yuan.

Traffic slowly returned to normal yesterday. Two expressways linking Fuzhou and the airport in Changle reopened yesterday and most flights resumed after being suspended on Saturday.

President Hu Jintao, who just returned from Kazakhstan, telephoned Fujian Party Secretary Lu Zhangong yesterday expressing concern and 'acknowledged efforts' by Fujian to minimise losses and casualties.

The low casualties appeared to be the result of extra steps by officials in broadcasting the approach of the typhoon and warning residents to take shelter and evacuating thousands. Some regular broadcasts were cancelled for regular updates on the typhoon. The efforts enabled many fishermen to return to port ahead of time and take shelter in emergency centres.

Fujian suffered heavy losses in August last year as a result of Typhoon Saomai, which killed almost 300 people, mostly fishermen.

'We did not believe that a typhoon could be so powerful, but Typhoon Saomai caused serious damage last year and took away many lives,' said Mr Jiang, a fisherman in Fuxin village of Changle city.

'[Because of Saomai], dozens of local cadres and police came knocking from door to door this time. Villagers were bussed off by cars arranged by the government to higher ground on Saturday. We learned a lesson.'

Actually, the broadcast warnings characterised Sepat as equal in strength to Saomai, but that turned out not to be the case.

One villager said the emergency centre - at a local school - was crowded and her family returned home yesterday after the typhoon left.

'The classroom we were assigned to was too crowded. We just spent the night sitting on chairs, watching movies shown on television,' said Mrs Liu, holding her granddaughter in her arms. 'There were no beds and we could not sleep.'

After the typhoon left, dozens of fishermen in Fuxin quickly returned to the sea to fish.

'Every time a typhoon leaves, it will be an opportunity to catch crabs, which got washed up on the shore,' Mr Jiang said. 'We will never miss such a good opportunity.'