Hundreds of thousands could be evacuated as ‘giant’ typhoon set to hit southeastern China this week

Typhoon Talim could be as powerful as Hurricane Irma that struck Florida last week, expert says

PUBLISHED : Monday, 11 September, 2017, 8:33pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 13 September, 2017, 5:39pm

Authorities in southeastern China will begin evacuating up to half a million people from their homes on Tuesday as the region braces for a “giant” typhoon that is expected to make landfall later in the week.

Typhoon Talim was forecast to strike several cities along central and northern sections of the Fujian coastline, including Fuzhou and Ningde, Liu Aiming, chief engineer at the province’s meteorological bureau, said.

Evacuation notices could be issued to as many as 400,000 or 500,000 people, though the exact figure was subject to change as the situation was still evolving, Liu said.

Most of the people affected live either in properties that might not be able to withstand the high winds, in areas that are prone to flooding or mudslides, or are close to construction sites where they could be hit by flying debris, she said, adding that school buildings and sports stadiums will be used as temporary shelters.

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Talim formed east of the Philippines on Saturday and was on course to hit both Fujian and Taiwan, Liu said. It had been steadily gathering strength and by the time it made landfall would most likely have grown into a super typhoon, the highest level in China’s rating system and comparable to a category 4 or 5 hurricane in the United States, she said.

“Talim is a giant. It will dwarf any of the others [typhoons] we’ve seen this year,” she said.

If people chose not to leave, they would be forced to do so by inspection teams made up of Communist Party and government officials, she said.

“It’s routine practice. [If they were not told to evacuate] most people would just stay in their homes. Nobody hits the highway,” she said, adding that she was a “bit surprised at what happened in the US”.

As Hurricane Irma raced towards the coast of Florida last week, more than five million residents fled coastal areas in response to government warnings. The exodus caused huge jams on the motorways and many service stations ran out of fuel.

Although Fujian’s population is about 50 per cent higher than Florida’s and the two storms are comparable in strength, the number of people set to be evacuated in the province is only a tenth of those who fled Irma.

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Huang Peng, a professor in architecture and wind engineering at Tongji University in Shanghai who used to work at the International Hurricane Research Centre in Florida, said it was understandable that China and the US had adopted different approaches to keep people safe.

“In Florida, the government’s advice was for people to flee and that was best for the situation,” he said.

“Most of the people live in timber properties on low-lying ground and that makes them vulnerable to the high winds,” he said. “And because they are spread over such a wide area, it would have been difficult to get aid and support to them in the aftermath of the hurricane.”

“In China, mass evacuations are usually not considered an option, but for those living in poorly built properties or at-risk locations it is better if they are relocated,” he said.

The reason why mass evacuations were not as popular in China was mostly due to population densities, Huang said.

“In the panic of a disaster situation, the escape route can turn into a traffic nightmare,” he said. “In places like Fujian the roads get jam-packed even during the holidays.”

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According to Wang Kanghong, a researcher at the meteorological disaster laboratory under the Ministry of Education in Nanjing, Jiangsu province, the Chinese government was very selective when it came to ordering evacuations. Orders were issued only if the data suggested a building was vulnerable to a typhoon.

“[However] the climate is changing. It is possible we will one day be faced with a mega-typhoon that few buildings would be able to withstand,” he said.

Senior officials in every city had emergency plans to deal with such a “doomsday scenario”, he said.

These included computer simulations that could be used to evacuate entire cities, by deciding such things as which motorways should remain open and which groups of people should be moved first, he said.

But there were no guarantees such a plan would work, Wang said.

“There has never been a drill. Many things can go wrong.”