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Typhoon Mangkhut

Hong Kong faces days of uncertainty as it struggles to recover from monster storm Typhoon Mangkhut

Officials and utility companies appeal for public understanding as they race against time to repair train tracks, ferry piers and power lines while removing 1,500 toppled trees blocking critical transport arteries

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 18 September, 2018, 12:17am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 19 September, 2018, 8:19pm

Hong Kong is struggling to get back on its feet and facing more days of uncertainty ahead after the monster storm that mauled the city over the weekend left more than 1,000 sections of road blocked by trees or flood debris.

Even as the city’s leader was congratulating rescue and emergency personnel on a job well done in avoiding serious casualties, she came under fire for underestimating the commuter chaos on Monday due to widespread destruction brought by Mangkhut, Hong Kong’s strongest typhoon on record.

Officials and utility companies appealed for public understanding as they raced against time to repair train tracks, ferry piers, power lines, and 170 sets of damaged traffic lights, while removing some 1,500 toppled trees blocking critical transport arteries.

“Our current goal is to get the clearing-up work done in most main routes by 5am,” transport commissioner Mable Chan said on Monday night, adding that smaller roads and certain routes in the North and Sai Kung districts would take more time.

“We hope to get all the clearing work done in the next one to two days.”

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More than 13,500 households and businesses, mainly in the remote, rural areas of New Territories North, Yuen Long and Sai Kung, were still waiting for the restoration of power supplies. Nearly 40,000 customers suffered blackouts and power when the storm struck.

Power utility CLP said access to many of the affected areas was blocked by fallen trees and debris, making repair work extremely difficult.

The Education Bureau decided schools and kindergartens would remain closed on Tuesday.

Open University, Chinese University, Education University, University of Science and Technology, Baptist University and the Vocational Training Council announced they would resume classes on Tuesday. Classes at Shue Yan University were due to resume on Wednesday as access to its Braemar Hill campus remained blocked.

Railway tracks and facilities along all of the MTR Corporation’s nine lines were blocked or damaged by fallen trees and debris, causing massive commuter congestion and chaos at stations during the morning rush hour. Crippled train services were just limping back to normal on the East Rail Line on Monday night.

“It was no picnic that the [East Rail] line could resume limited services in the morning [on Monday],” MTR chief of operations engineering Tony Lee Ka-yun said.

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The storm left the tracks for Hung Hom-bound trains unusable, and skeletal services were operating along a single track that reduced train frequencies to 10-minute intervals.

Attempts to funnel stranded passengers into shuttle buses caused more chaos due to blocked roads across the city.

Frustrated residents took Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor to task for not pressuring employers to agree to a day off work for everyone.

Lam called for calm, stressing it should be left to “employers and employees to handle the issue with mutual understanding”.

“I call upon employers not to punish their employees who are late or can’t make it to work,” she said.

Two runways to remain open overnight for 48 hours to clear 2,000 flights

Veteran lawmaker Michael Tien Puk-sun, a former railway boss, suggested there would have been fewer complaints if the government had given them advanced warnings about traffic congestion in the hardest-hit districts.

But Tien, a pro-business politician, disagreed that Monday should have been declared a special day off for the whole city to recover.

Hong Kong is already facing a massive economic bill, including damage costs, and insurance claims estimated to exceed a record US$1 billion.

The transport disruptions are expected to persist over the week ahead, although most ferry operators, franchised buses on 120 out of more than 600 routes, and minibuses on 600 out of 655 routes, had resumed services by late Monday afternoon.

The situation was still looking grim, however, as only a fraction of the roads that had been completely blocked by trees or debris had been cleared by the afternoon.

Hong Kong International Airport’s two runways are to remain open overnight on Monday and Tuesday to clear a backlog of 2,000 rescheduled flights.

The Observatory confirmed the intensity of the storm was the highest since the city started keeping records in 1946.

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Mangkhut, named after the Thai word for mangosteen, was a super typhoon first when it slammed into the Philippines before weakening slightly into a severe typhoon as it tore into Hong Kong on Saturday night and kept up its relentless onslaught throughout Sunday. It prompted the No 10 signal, the highest storm warning level, to remain in force for 10 hours.

“The initial analysis showed that, throughout the life cycle of Mangkhut, the maximum sustained winds near the centre reached 250km/h [155mph],” senior scientific officer Li Ping-wah said.

The typhoon brought record storm surges as well, whipping up floodwaters to their highest levels since 1904, according to meteorologists.

Secretary for Security John Lee Ka-chiu described the damage as “serious and extensive” with the number of calls for help, or reports of injury, five times higher than in August last year when Super Typhoon Hato battered Hong Kong.

Accident and emergency departments at the city’s 17 public hospitals were kept busy with 458 people seeking medical treatment over the duration of the typhoon.

Additional reporting by Shirley Zhao, Michelle Wong and Chris Lau