Angry passengers at Hong Kong airport charge at Cathay Pacific's security cordon after delays and cancellations
Confusion reigns at check-in counters as airport tries to clear backlog caused by Typhoon Nida as weather forecaster downgrades warning signal from No 8 to No 3
Ticketing counters at Hong Kong’s airport were besieged by angry passengers yesterday as airlines struggled to clear a massive backlog of flights disrupted by a powerful typhoon that left the city mostly unscathed.
The shutdown that began on Monday with the raising of the year’s first No 8 storm warning signal continued until 12.40pm yesterday when the Observatory replaced it with a No 3 as Typhoon Nida swept past the city.
By 5.10pm, all warning signals were dropped with Nida weakening as it moved further inland over Guangdong.
The Airport Authority expected around 500 flights to and from Hong Kong to be rescheduled between 6am and midnight.
In the morning a Singapore Airlines flight from San Francisco aborted two landing attempts as it was buffeted by strong winds, and eventually diverted to Taipei.
Airport security was called in after chaos broke out at Cathay Pacific Airways counters in the departure hall. Hundreds of disgruntled passengers stranded for hours in 80-metre long queues attempted to force their way through a security cordon, demanding passage and an official explanation from the carrier about leaving them high and dry.
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“We were given incorrect information and were even led to wrong counters. It seems we were lining up for nothing at one point,” Australian traveller Daniel Thompson said.
Cathay Pacific and its subsidiary airline Dragonair had cancelled dozens of flights starting from 10pm on Monday night, pledging to resume services from 2pm the following afternoon. The lucky ones among the passengers were put on afternoon flights or offered accommodation arrangements.
“Although the typhoon has passed Hong Kong, flight services remain strained,” a Cathay Pacific spokesman said last night.
It was a similar story at jam-packed Hong Kong Airlines counters, which were fenced off by airport security personnel to maintain order. More than 100 passengers had no choice but to lie on the ground with blankets provided by the airport.
Among them was Kate Mosley, who saw her flight to Dallas cancelled and had no idea how much longer her ordeal would last. “They provided meal vouchers but I just want to go home,” she said.
As Nida unleashed gale force winds and squally downpours throughout Monday night and Tuesday morning, storm watchers flocked to shorelines to experience howling winds of up to 100km/h and tides 1.5 metres higher than usual. Over 90mm of rain was dumped over parts of the northern New Territories.
A gang of smash-and-grab thieves took advantage of stormy weather and empty streets to steal dozens of jade pieces from a Causeway Bay shop in a predawn raid, one of two burglaries in the same district at that time.
By the afternoon, most transport services had resumed and people were heading back to work for a half-day of business. Rush hour shifted from early morning to early afternoon.
But all-day schools and courts remained suspended, and the local stock market was closed.
Flooding in low-lying areas was not as severe as initially feared, but emergency crews had to deal with hundreds of fallen trees. At least 12 people sought treatment at public hospitals’ accident and emergency departments during the typhoon, while 262 people took refuge in temporary shelters.
Weather forecasters had expected worse and even warned of a higher signal overnight.
“When Nida was to our east at around 2 to 3am, winds at Tsim Sha Tsui Star Ferry were coming from the west to northwest, with gusts occasionally reaching gale-force levels,” Observatory senior scientific officer Lee Shuk-ming said.
The storm is no longer a threat to the city, but cloudy skies and squally showers are still expected for another day or two, with better weather nearer to the weekend.
Additional reporting by Clifford Lo and Kinling Lo