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Typhoon Mangkhut

MTR sets up war room and cable cars shuttered as Hong Kong battens down the hatches for Super Typhoon Mangkhut

Owners of famous skyscrapers say storm unlikely to cause problems, while bank building smashed up during Hato has strengthened windows

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 15 September, 2018, 1:30pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 15 September, 2018, 8:26pm

Hong Kong’s rail operator has set up a war room at the terminal of the city’s new high-speed rail line, to deal with any damage wrought by the incoming Super Typhoon Mangkhut.

Elsewhere, hundreds of cable cars were to be brought indoors, with theme parks closing rides as the storm swept in.

But owners of some of the city’s most famous skyscrapers said they were likely to avoid any major problems, and the bank building which sprayed glass into the street during a storm last year had strengthened since.

On Friday security minister John Lee Ka-chiu warned government departments to prepare for the worst. Officials were set to evacuate thousands from flood-prone areas.

The Observatory – which issued a No 1 typhoon signal and then a No 3 – said it was likely to issue the No 8 signal on Sunday, when the storm was forecast to come within 200km of the city. At 4pm Saturday, it was about 660km southeast of the city.

The MTR Corporation set up a control centre at the West Kowloon terminal of the new cross-border express line, with a special team to monitor the situation, make contingency plans and send staff to cope with any emergency, disruption or damage.

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John Woo Shui-wah, deputy chief of operations for the line, set to open later this month, said there would be no safety problems with the terminal’s roof, which is made of more than 4,000 glass panels. He noted that it withstood the force of Super Typhoon Hato last year.

“So far we haven’t come across even one single glass panel that needed to be replaced,” he said.

“Each layer of glass is held in place by an adhesive substance that keeps the layers of glass bonded even when broken. It prevents the glass from breaking into large sharp pieces. So it’s pretty safe from any attacks by strong winds.”

He said special anti-flooding measures, such as the use of sand bags and anti-flooding boards, had been put in place at all station exits, and all the drains had been cleared to prevent an overflow.

The railway’s chief of operations Francis Li Shing-kee said it had deployed a special team to conduct regular checks this week on any water seepage or other problems.

Ngong Ping 360, the cable car on Lantau Island, would suspend operations when wind speeds exceeded 65km/h, a spokeswoman said. She said all 108 carriages would be grounded and held in a garage.

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The line was in the middle of regular maintenance until September 20, but that would be suspended temporarily when Mangkhut approaches, she added.

Ocean Park, the theme park on the south of Hong Kong Island, would similarly station all 250 of its cable cars in an indoor shelter when wind speeds hit 76km/h, its spokeswoman said.

She added that all mechanical rides would be stopped upon issuance of typhoon signal No 3.

“The park has also proactively reached out to guests who have made prior bookings in the weekend for rescheduling or cancellation of bookings.”

The 25-storey Hang Seng Bank headquarters in Central, some of the windows on which broke and fell into the street during Hato, had since strengthened its glass curtain walls, according to a spokeswoman.

“We have also replaced glass panels with aluminium claddings on the top floor of the bank headquarters building, which bears the greatest wind pressures, and applied adhesive protection films to the panels,” she said.

Sun Hung Kai Properties said it was confident its two famous waterfront buildings – the 88-storey International Finance Centre in Central and the 118-storey International Commerce Centre across the harbour – would be able to withstand the strong winds without any major problems.

“It is not uncommon for super-high-rise buildings all over the world to experience some possible malfunctioning of elevator systems, especially those at the higher zones, during the time of excessively strong winds that may cause lateral vibrations of the buildings, or some curtain wall panels may be damaged by flying debris hailed by the storm,” a spokeswoman added.

“But all of these had already been factored into the precautionary process that is being put in place by the building management team.”

Structural engineer Ngai Hok-yan said the city’s building laws imposed a higher wind resistance standard for taller buildings, in accordance with their heights.

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“For relatively new buildings, especially those with big glass walls, their windows are usually built with tempered glass, a form of toughened glass that has high wind resistance. Basically the buildings in Hong Kong can resist very strong winds,” he said.

Unlike normal glass, which can shatter into shards when broken, tempered glass fractures into small, relatively harmless pieces. “So the chance for broken tempered glass to injure people is small,” Ngai said.

However, he pointed out the real danger lay in hard objects hurled by strong winds at building windows.

“Usually building windows are damaged by flying objects caused by strong winds, such as stones,” he said.