Typhoon Hato

Tai O villagers urge review of Hong Kong flood prevention amid long clean-up after Typhoon Hato

Some claim a levee on Lantau Island meant to stop water getting in ended up preventing floodwater from getting out

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 31 August, 2017, 8:35am
UPDATED : Thursday, 31 August, 2017, 9:04am

Disgruntled villagers on Hong Kong’s Lantau Island have demanded a full review of flood-prevention measures in Tai O, where tsunami-like waves destroyed homes during Typhoon Hato last week.

The villagers, who were almost stranded by floodwater, debris and rubble strewn across paths and alleys in their coastal fishing settlement, were starting to get back to normal life thanks to dozens of volunteers pitching in to help the clean-up.

But villagers were told to expect to wait for two or three more days before trash littering the shore could be removed.

Some angry villagers blamed a government project years ago for their plight, claiming the levee meant to stop water getting in ended up preventing floodwater from getting out.

At a meeting with officials Wednesday night, villagers asked for a review of flood-prevention measures. They claimed the government had been slow to react during the post-typhoon clean-up.

Eddie Tse Sai-kit, a spokesman for a local concern group, Tai O Sustainable Development Education Workshop, said: “The response by the government departments was slow. We had to mobilise volunteers from outside to help with the clean-up.”

He appreciated that the flooding this time, coinciding with a high tide, had been especially serious. In the face of floodwater rising as high as 3.7 metres, the levee built following flooding from Typhoon Hagupit in 2008 gave in.

We had to mobilise volunteers from outside to help with the clean-up
Eddie Tse Sai-kit, Tai O concern group

The 200-metre river wall at Yat Chung was meant to alleviate flooding risks in low-lying areas on the southern bank of Tai O village.

During a visit to Tai O after Hato struck last week, Secretary for Development Michael Wong Wai-lun promised residents that officials would consider expanding the river wall.

But Tse said that although the idea behind an embankment had “sounded like a good idea” when it was built, it proved counterproductive during “heavy flooding like this time”.

“What was supposed to keep water out has instead trapped water in. It took a long time for the floodwater to retreat.”

Islands district council vice-chairman Randy Yu Hon-kwan, a Tai O native, said he appreciated the government’s difficulties.

“There was too much debris to clear. You can imagine hills of broken refrigerators and washing machines blocking the paths,” he said. “You need heavy machines to clear them, and the use of heavy machines in narrow paths and alleys in Tai O is not very effective.”

Yu, who had been enlisting volunteers from outside Tai O to help in the clean-up, believed the remaining debris could be removed in two or three days.

He hoped the government could offer financial assistance to affected shopkeepers and villagers.

Develop Lantau Island, but with the greatest of care

“Many of those living in stilt houses are elderly villagers,” he added. “Many of them have lost all their furniture and appliances, while others had their bedroom or bathroom in their stilt houses washed away during flooding. They have no money to do repairs, much less rebuild their homes.”

Meanwhile, the Tai O Heritage Hotel, which was converted from Tai O police station and whose building dates to 1902, withstood both Hato and Severe Tropical Storm Pakhar over the weekend. A front desk employee said the hotel and its restaurant had been operating normally.