Typhoon Hato

Don’t blame Observatory warning signals for Macau’s Typhoon Hato mess, former top Hong Kong weather official says

Scale of destruction in casino hub down to other factors such as engineering, former Hong Kong Observatory chief says

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 27 August, 2017, 6:08pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 27 August, 2017, 7:56pm

The havoc wreaked in Macau by Typhoon Hato had nothing to do with warning signals issued by authorities, a former head of the Hong Kong Observatory has said, amid accusations weather officials were to blame for the extent of the destruction in the casino hub.

Lam Chiu-ying said the scale of the mess in the former Portuguese enclave had been dependent on other factors, including engineering and whether buildings were constructed to endure strong winds.

“It was not fair for people to criticise [the Macau observatory] for issuing the typhoon signal later than Hong Kong did. It should indeed have been issued later because the typhoon passed by Hong Kong first,” Lam said on a radio show on Sunday.

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“We later saw how water had submerged parts of the city, that there was no water and electricity. Transportation came to a standstill, the city was not cleaned up fast. These had nothing to do with what typhoon signal was issued.”

Typhoon Hato barrelled into Macau, Asia’s biggest gambling destination, on Wednesday, claiming 10 lives. The city’s leader, Fernando Chui Sai-on, apologised for the disruption brought by the storm and announced the resignation of Fong Soi-kun, director of the Meteorological and Geophysical Bureau.

At the request of the Macau government, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army garrison based in the city after its return to Chinese sovereignty in 1999 took the unprecedented step of deploying 1,000 soldiers to help with the recovery effort.

No water, rubbish floating in the streets, and another storm on the way: Macau struggles to recover after Typhoon Hato

Just days later, on Sunday morning, typhoon warning signal No 8 was issued again in both Macau and Hong Kong as Severe Tropical Storm Pakhar rained down on the region, bringing further misery to many residents.

Lam said urban planning and infrastructure were the key determinants of the scale of destruction from a typhoon, as well as the number of people living in low-lying areas.

“All these must be planned ahead,” said Lam, now a professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong’s department of geography and resource management.

In the 1960s and 70s, the Hong Kong Observatory worked with the University of Hong Kong to measure wind power at different heights in order to come up with safety standards for the construction industry to follow, Lam said.

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When Hong Kong officials were planning for construction of Sha Tin, a town in the New Territories, planners calculated how high river tides could rise before residents would be threatened. Because such planning considerations were taken into account, Lam said, only cycling paths were submerged when Hato hit and housing estates were left unaffected.

Dr Chan Chi-wang, a Macau resident and a lecturer at the University of Hong Kong’s faculty of science, said Pakhar had so far caused less damage than Hato because it was weaker and farther away from Macau.

“The west side of Macau is a low-lying area. In past decades, every time there has been heavy rain or a typhoon, there has been flooding,” he said on a TVB talk show.

People in Macau were aware that properties in certain parts of the city were susceptible to floods, and were used to it, he added.

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“Take Hong Kong’s Tai O for example; there was a time when rising tides brought by typhoons resulted in property losses. You can see that steps have been taken to prevent this,” he said. “But look at Macau – over the past few decades nothing much has been done.”

On social media, criticism of Macau weather authorities continued on Sunday as Pakhar approached.

Users accused the government of hoisting the storm warning signals too late for Hato.

Florence Leong, who will replace Fong as weather bureau chief, pledged on Friday to improve communication and strengthen prevention measures.