What Typhoon Mangkhut taught us: the value of being prepared and regional cooperation
Sonny Lo says the effective steps taken by the authorities in Hong Kong, Macau and on the mainland to prepare for the superstorm, including inter-governmental efforts, helped avert a repeat of last summer’s Typhoon Hato tragedy
Typhoon Mangkhut wreaked havoc on Hong Kong and Macau, causing widespread flooding and damage. Fortunately, although there have been injuries, there has been no loss of human life so far in both cities. Unlike last year when Typhoon Hato claimed 10 lives in Macau, the government there managed to brace itself better for yesterday’s storm. In both Hong Kong and Macau, the authorities prepared sufficiently while citizens were educated on how they should protect themselves.
This time, credit must first go to the intergovernmental cooperation between the observatory officials in mainland China, Hong Kong and Macau, who held a joint video conference on September 12, four days before the typhoon approached southern China.
Their efforts at sharing their intelligence on the movement of the storm were a testimony to how intergovernmental collaboration could contribute to collective defence against natural disasters.
Watch: Macau suffers serious flooding and power cuts
Both Hong Kong and Macau raised the No 10 typhoon signal within the same time-frame, indicating that the observatories of both cities were on the same page about the strength and danger of Mangkhut, unlike last summer when Macau seemed caught unawares compared with Hong Kong.
In fact, it was evident that the Macau government had learned from the Hato tragedy in the measures it implemented. First, the government coordinated with casinos to shut down on the night of September 15 and also opened over 1,800 free parking spaces while hotel resorts opened over 2,000 more.
People whose vehicles were located in underground parking lots moved them to elevated car parks. Four people who died in Macau when Typhoon Hato struck were found in underground car parks.
Second, Macau’s electricity supply was strategically terminated in areas affected by extensive flooding on September 16, but would be resumed once the water level dropped.
Third, the various departments of the Macau government coordinated on how to evacuate residents in low-lying residential districts and how to enhance public awareness of the importance of protecting themselves from the typhoon.
Fourth, public awareness measures did improve citizens’ preparedness for this storm. Many people flocked to supermarkets to buy daily necessities three days before Mangkhut, illustrating an unprecedented level of public sensitivity after the Hato tragedy.
The flooding levels in various districts were anticipated by the Macau Observatory and were announced to members of the public through TV and radio programmes, thus alerting residents of the need to evacuate their homes and shops much earlier.
On the night of September 16, the Macau police did a great job of visiting shopkeepers in many areas that were anticipated to have flooding, asking them to leave their shops and homes for safer places.
Finally, a representative of the People’s Liberation Army was invited to observe the Macau officials’ preparatory meeting so that coordination and mobilisation of the Chinese garrison would be improved if the need arose for military assistance in dealing with the natural disaster.
Overall, the Macau government learned from the mistakes it made in the days before last summer’s typhoon. The improved response to Mangkhut demonstrated that precautionary measures are of paramount importance.
In Hong Kong, the authorities were also busy several days before Mangkhut struck. Led by the Secretary for Security John Lee Ka-chiu, various government departments and officials had a rehearsal on how to mobilise emergency units to deal with the typhoon. In fact, the relative swiftness of the mobilisation of the Fire Services Department in evacuating residents of Tai O and other low-lying areas testified to the success of robust preparatory work.
Although Typhoon Wanda claimed hundreds of lives and extensive havoc in Hong Kong in 1962, Mangkhut is the most intense storm in Hong Kong’s recorded history and severely damaged many low-lying areas, especially in the eastern part of Kowloon and Hong Kong Island.
Given that there was serious flooding in parts of Hong Kong and Macau, the authorities in both cities should study how to improve the drainage system in those areas and whether dams or other flood-prevention measures should be introduced as soon as possible. With climate change a threat globally, Hong Kong and Macau can expect to face similarly strong typhoons in the future.
It is also imperative that observatory officials in Guangdong, Hong Kong and Macau hold regular meetings to share their findings and predictions on the movements of various typhoons and astronomical tides to protect the residents of all three places from natural disasters.
If climate change is going to affect the coastal regions of southern China more seriously than ever before, intergovernmental cooperation among observatory officials and public-private partnership in the cities concerned will be the most indispensable factor in protecting people in the region in the coming decades.
Sonny Lo is a professor of politics at HKU SPACE