Landslides reveal cracks in disaster planning
Hong Kong has the expertise to deal with the most severe storms. A history of tragedies caused by downpours and landslides has ensured robust emergency preparedness that, authorities insist, stretches to the remotest corners of the city. But such an assertion has to be questioned in light of the difficulties endured by villagers in southwest Lantau Island and some parts of the New Territories as a result of record rainfall last Saturday.
Six days later, some villages remain cut off, their roads and water supplies still severed by landslides. Only yesterday was running water returned to Tai O, the city's oldest fishing village and one of our tourist attractions. While the thousands of people living in the area now have sufficient water and food, it is clear that the emergency response was not as prompt as it should have been. Days, not hours, passed before the plight of residents was taken seriously.
Authorities are trying to make up for the oversight. With inclement weather forecast for today, civil aid manpower is being stepped up and centred on Tai O on a 24-hour basis. Emergency accommodation is available at Tung Chung, although villagers still contend that emergency transport arrangements are inadequate.
It is ironic that Hong Kong International Airport is barely 30 minutes' driving time from Tai O. Twice a year, airport officials stage mock emergency exercises to prepare for an accident and a terrorist attack. Openness of the Tai O area to the elements makes it prone to the effects of storms. A fire that destroyed 90 of the 200 buildings in Tai O itself in 2000 should have alerted authorities to the need to step up emergency measures among the mostly elderly villagers; that the village draws tourists makes the need for bolstering preparedness doubly necessary.
As we report today, southwest Lantau is not the only part of the city where such steps are lacking. Remote villages in the New Territories have also been paid insufficient attention. We cannot wait for another tragedy before correcting the problem. Instead, authorities have to ensure that they are ready to rush promptly to the help of people in need - no matter where they are in Hong Kong.