What I learned from Hong Kong typhoon

What I learned from Hong Kong typhoon

          When Hong Kong was hit by a level-10 typhoon in mid-September, I was looking out of my window anticipating what would happen next. Across from my apartment were residential buildings. Most of their windows were plastered with white tape to protect glass breaking from the heavy wind. True enough, when the typhoon gradually reached my location, slowly but surely heavy wind and rain mercilessly hit every corner. I thought the window would fall out, as it was shaking hard, making a very loud noise. Luckily, after several hours, the typhoon passed by, and the window was still intact.

                  Not everyone was as lucky as me. Many Hongkongers suff ered from the biggest typhoon to hit the country, at least in the past 30 years. Almost 50,000 trees were uprooted, some areas were flooded, several buildings were damaged, and the roof of my friend’s house flew down onto their neighbor’s car. Almost 900 fl ights were delayed or canceled and public transportation paralyzed. But the best part is, we learned of no human casualties, and the next day, offices, businesses, public services were all back to normal, although some stations of the Mass Transit Railway (MTR) suff ered a chaotic start to the week, with thousands of passengers waiting to get into trains.

                Hong Kong people see typhoons as part of a natural phenomenon in their lives. Every year a typhoon occurs between May and August, but this 2018 Mangkhut (mangosteen) typhoon, as it is otherwise known, was special, as it was regarded the strongest to strike Hong Kong in decades.
The country has survived every typhoon. This latest typhoon intrigued me to understand how the government and people prepare themselves.

  • Anticipation: On Sept. 14, or two days before the big typhoon, the Hong Kong government held a rare cross-department press conference on preparations for super typhoon Mangkhut to remind its citizens to “prepare for the worst”. On Sept. 16, the Hong Kong Observatory issued “hurricane signal No. 10”, the highest level of tropical cyclone warning signals in Hong Kong, for 10 hours. This created a sense of urgency for its citizens. People in Hong Kong always take this announcement seriously Supermarkets were more crowded than usual, with people buying food and other necessities before the typhoon came.
  • Technology: Everyone I know in Hong Kong has the “MyObservatory” app on their mobile phone. This is a weather forecast app that informs users about temperatures and rains, and this app is particularly useful during typhoons. It’s like an “all you need to know app” about weather that sends regular notifications on what to anticipate, especially in extremely hot weather or during the hurricane signal. The accuracy is reliable, and people in Hong Kong rely on their forecasts.
  • Communication: Although I can’t speak Cantonese, all local TV channels in Hong Kong showed the current typhoon level during the Mangkhut period in a corner of the screen. While looking out of the window, I also monitored the increasing typhoon level. Every newspaper, local and English ones, like The South China Morning Post and China Daily had daily headlines on typhoon preparations, which helped add a sense of urgency.
  • Disaster recovery: On the first day after the typhoon, there were lots of fallen trees, including one on the way to my office. However, the next day, the tree was already removed and I did not hear complaints from colleagues about the general situation. People only expressed surprise that the “T10” could disrupt the MTR operations. It’s quite amazing how Hong Kong has developed its infrastructure to be typhoonproof. Buildings that were severely damaged were investigated, as windows should be able to weather a T10. Skilled officials and volunteers were deployed to ensure the city recovered quickly.

           Situated on the so-called Ring of Fire, Indonesians are surrounded by active volcanoes on almost every island, along with tectonic faults and the risk of tsunamis, as seen in the latest disasters in Central Sulawesi.
Yet we have been largely ignoring the science and signs and therefore lack capabilities in anticipating and recovering from natural disasters. Indeed, anticipation is not an easy job. There are more pressing things to do: going to work, taking care of children and the elderly, and basic issues that require immediate attention, such as food, security and household care.

      Unfortunately, Mother Nature does not give discounts. Just because we are busy, when we ignore this unanticipated moment, whatever we plan can turn into a disaster.

          Not everyone has the time and capacity to think of the bigger picture, but there are government bodies at all levels, meteorology departments and community leaders that have official responsibilities to ensure the safety and welfare of their people. The most important responsibility is actually within each of us.

           We are in control of what happen in our lives. The Palu earthquakewas devastating as some 2,000 people died. If only we could anticipate better, improve consciousness, leverage technology and have a greater sense of urgency, perhaps more lives can be saved and we can better prepare for future events.

The writer, who graduated from
the School of Education, University of Michigan,
is an Indonesian expatriate living in Hong Kong.

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