Hailstorm exposes safety failings in our malls

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 01 April, 2014, 3:27am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 01 April, 2014, 3:27am

The downpour on Sunday night caught everyone by surprise - and not only because the city is not yet in the typhoon or wet season. It also exposed the weakness of our facilities, some of which were not as sturdy and safe as we thought they were. Our preparedness for natural disasters still has room for improvement.

This is not the first time Hong Kong has been hit by a hailstorm. But the impact caused by the two-hour deluge was surely one of the worst in recent memory. Television news and the social media were awash with images of rain pouring down like waterfalls inside a glitzy shopping mall in Kowloon Tong; torrents of water raging down the steps of an underground train station; lifts and rail tracks flooded like waterways; and a tower of cargo containers toppled by strong wind. They are not things you expect to see in a modern city.

Disruptions to business, flights and public transport were inevitable under such adverse circumstances. Some shops inside the mall were unable to open yesterday, raising questions about insurance and compensation. Thankfully, no major injuries were reported. But why were people still allowed to hang around inside, taking pictures or continuing to eat while parts of the ceiling were washed off?

Indoor shopping complexes are hugely popular across the city, and even more so during bad weather. The downpour also damaged another shopping mall in Tuen Mun. Such mayhem highlights the need for better building safety, maintenance and contingency plans. The malls have a responsibility to provide a safe environment for those inside.

Natural disasters are not uncommon in Hong Kong. But with more than a century of experience in handling typhoons and heavy rain, we usually manage to weather the storm with relatively minor injuries and losses. That said, there is no room for complacency. Inclement weather is expected to cause havoc in the region for several days. It is time we got ourselves better prepared for extreme weather.