Hong Kong’s worst natural disaster occurred 110 years ago today, when a typhoon and tsunami killed 10,000 people. On September 19, 1906, the South China Morning Post reported the “immense destruction” and “terrible loss of life” wreaked by the storm on an unprepared population. The absence of any warning from meteorological experts in Manila remains controversial.
The Hong Kong Observatory was reportedly unaware of the typhoon until about 8.30am, when the “glass fell rapidly” and a black signal went up to indicate the storm was 480km away. By 10am, the Post reported, it was impossible to see beyond a few yards and the accompanying wall of sound was described as the “deafening noise of a midnight express speeding through a tunnel”.
By noon, the worst was over and the destruction laid bare. Streets were flooded, shops submerged and roads blocked by debris and uprooted trees.
On September 20, the Post listed 47 boats destroyed and reported that half of Hong Kong’s 2,000 junks had been damaged. Passenger steamers were wrecked, the Monteagle carried ashore and the Kwongchow sunk, “nothing left visible but her funnel”. The new roof of the Star Ferry pier had been crushed and crumpled like “an old bonnet”.
Policemen were left homeless and all records destroyed by the collapse of the Sham Shui Po station. A large section of that day’s newspaper was given over to the missing Bishop of Victoria, who had set sail for Castle Peak before the storm hit. Bishop Joseph Hoare had perished in the storm.
A witness at HMS Tamar naval base told the Post, “The sight of innumerable fellow creatures being carried past to almost certain death and being unable to aid them in any way was too awful!”
By September 21, the scale of the loss of life was beginning to become apparent, the newspaper stating that 700 people had been reported missing at police stations, and that hundreds of bodies had been washed ashore or found under rubble left by the storm.