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Typhoon Mangkhut

Shek O Beach residents angry and fearful over Hong Kong officials’ response to debris clean-up after Typhoon Mangkhut destruction

Frustration mounts as two departments deny responsibility for overseeing area once occupied by barbecue pits and reclaimed by government months ago

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 22 September, 2018, 2:09pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 23 September, 2018, 3:01pm

Hong Kong residents frustrated by officials’ response to clean a part of Shek O Beach devastated on Sunday by Typhoon Mangkhut have claimed debris piled up since Monday poses a health hazard.

Their concerns centre upon an area on the eastern side of the beach where barbecue pits once stood and were closed in March for occupying government land. The Leisure and Cultural Services Department (LCSD) ordered four barbecue operators to vacate the strip or face a fine of HK$500,000 (US$63,900) and six months in jail.

But determining who is now responsible for clearing that area has become a bureaucratic hot potato.

Nearby residents said the LCSD claimed that part of the beach falls under the jurisdiction of the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD), which asserted the LCSD has oversight.

“The government reclaimed the barbecue area, but where are they now that help is urgently needed?” resident Rachel Wilson asked. “The government departments seem to be playing ping-pong with their responsibilities.”

On Sunday, an FEHD spokesman advised that the area in question was under the LCSD’s management, while an LCSD spokesman said a contractor had begun to clear the debris in areas of Shek O that fell under the department’s management. The spokesman added that clearance efforts would continue over the next few days.

Meanwhile, hundreds of people turned out over the weekend to help with clean-up efforts on Shek O Beach after it bore the brunt of last week’s monster typhoon.

People in the village can only do so much
Jhena Davait, Shek O resident

Resident Jhena Davait, whose video of typhoon waves smashing against her flat went viral, says officials have made no effort to clear large piles of debris amassed near her flat.

“In the middle of the day, when it’s hot, the smell is unbearable,” Davait said, standing in front of slabs of cement and trees tangled with broken furniture and bags of rubbish located just a metre from her front door.

“The government needs to arrange machinery to lift the heavy rubbish,” she added. “People in the village can only do so much.”

Frustrated residents took matters into their own hands on Saturday, with some turning out to help clear the area.

On Thursday, resident Fanny Wong, with support from a Shek O group of mothers, arranged for two trucks to clear rubbish that had accumulated at the village roundabout.

“Residents have to arrange and pay for the removal of rubbish because the government has done nothing,” Wong said. “It’s appalling.”

“I was worried about hygiene. I had heard reports of cleaners falling ill.”

Wilson said areas near residents should be prioritised for clean-up and not the main beach areas that have been closed to the public since Monday.

People have also been warned not to swim at Shek O Beach due to sewage leaking from a damaged pipe at Tai Tau Chau Peninsula. Nearby Deep Water Bay and Kiu Tsui Beach on the south side of Hong Kong Island as well as Hap Mun Beach and Trio Beach in Sai Kung in the New Territories have also been closed due to leaking waste.

Typhoon Mangkhut was the most intense storm to hit Hong Kong since records began. It triggered unprecedented storm surges, whipping up floodwaters to their highest levels since 1904, according to local meteorologists.

The city’s outlying areas, including Lamma Island, Cheung Chau and Kat O (Crooked Island), also face a long road to recovery after the monster storm knocked out power, left water supply unstable and reduced some buildings to rubble.