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Typhoon Mangkhut

‘It is useless to be worried’: how will Hong Kong’s homeless cope with Super Typhoon Mangkhut?

While some will head to government shelters, many remain defiant and would prefer their own methods of coping with storm

PUBLISHED : Friday, 14 September, 2018, 8:31pm
UPDATED : Friday, 14 September, 2018, 10:39pm

While Hong Kong officials prepare for the worst as Super Typhoon Mangkhut approaches, street sleeper Lai Wing-keung insists he will stay at his self-built wooden house in Sham Shui Po unless the storm threatens his life.

“We have lived through typhoons and rainstorms, nothing will happen. I will only leave unless it’s so serious it will kill me,” said Lai, 61, who has lived under a bridge on Tung Chau Street for four years.

Despite multiple safety warnings from social workers, Lai refused to move into a community shelter just a five-minute walk away from his “home”.

He was worried his belongings, including personal documents, his clothes, his wheelchair and his dog, would be stolen while he was away.

According to the Hong Kong Observatory, the monster storm – which is the equivalent of a category 5 Atlantic hurricane – had edged closer to the city and was expected to bring destructive winds and rain on Sunday.

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Another homeless man Lo Wah, who lives in the same district, said he would stay at the community shelter if necessary.

“There are food and friends to talk to. Plenty of fun,” the 77-year-old said. “Don’t need to worry about the belongings. There are always people donating.”

But many other people, from rooftop dwellers to residents in low-lying districts, were less positive about moving into one of the government’s temporary shelters. They would rather use their own methods to fight the typhoon.

Lam Siu-hung, 46, who lives with her husband and six-year-old daughter said storms always caused water to leak from the windows, walls and ceiling of her Tai Kok Tsui home.

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The housewife said she would use wash basins to collect water and old cloths and towels to soak up puddles during stormy days.

“It is like fighting a war. I just keep drying [the house] without stopping,” she said.

She recalled how her bed and floor were soaked when Typhoon Hato swept through the region last year.

“I am worried. But it’s useless to be worried. I have nowhere to hide,” she said. Lam said it would be troublesome to move into a temporary shelter because the nearest one was located in Yau Ma Tei, almost 2km from her home.

She added she would just go to the lobby of the building if she was in danger.

Veteran social worker Sze Lai-shan, who worked with the Society for Community Organisation, said many people were reluctant to move into a temporary shelters because of distance.

She said only those whose rooftops had been blown away chose to move into these shelters. She added that only basic, thin mattresses were provided and residents could not rest well.

“A lot of people will only move in at the last minute,” she said.

On Thursday, the Home Affairs Department said it would open 48 temporary shelters to those in need when the typhoon signal No 3 was issued. It had contacted resident representatives and village representatives in Lei Yue Mun, Tai O and some outlying islands to seek their help in appealing to residents to move to a safe place or temporary shelters.

Eddie Tse Sai-kit, executive secretary for local concern group Tai O Sustainable Development Education Workshop, said he felt residents would be willing to move away when there was an emergency but they would wait until the last moment.

“They want to stay at home and monitor the situation,” he said.

Tse said 100 volunteers had been recruited to help needy and elderly residents living in Tai O to prepare for the storm on Saturday, but some residents had started moving their furniture on Thursday as they knew the typhoon was severe this time.