The Observatory issued the No 10 signal at 9.40am as Severe Typhoon Mangkhut buffeted the city with powerful winds. Hong Kong was faced with a total shutdown on Sunday, with flights cancelled, villagers evacuated from low-lying areas, and government departments are activating their emergency response plans. Mangkhut, named after the Thai word for mangosteen, was about 180km southeast of Hong Kong, moving across the South China Sea at a speed of 30km/h, and packing winds of up to 185km/h. Despite being downgraded from a super to a severe typhoon, it could turn out to be the most intense storm on record to hit the city. The last time the No ten signal – the highest in the Observatory’s warning system – was in force was in August 2017, when Typhoon Hato battered the city. The weather authority issued an amber rainstorm warning at 9.10am, indicating more than 30mm of rain was expected to fall within an hour. Senior science officer Lee Suk-ming said storm surges and flooding were expected to be more severe than the devastation delivered last year by Hato. “We expect huge waves and surge on the sea … and severe flooding in low-lying areas,” said Lee on Sunday morning, adding a special warning from the Observatory urging the public to stay away from waterfronts.
The 24-hour marine forecast effective until 1 pm on Sunday said waves hitting Hong Kong could be four metres to 14 metres high. At the waterfront of Heng Fa Chuen on the east of Hong Kong Island, a metre-high wall of sandbags built by the government was washed apart by rough waves, television footage from the scene showed. During Hato’s strike, Heng Fa Chuen was one of the most seriously affected areas in Hong Kong. Hong Kong was expected to be paralysed on Sunday, with hundreds of flights cancelled, most public services suspended and shops and businesses shuttered for the onslaught of the typhoon after it ripped through the northern Philippines, leaving a trail of death and destruction. The Hong Kong Jockey Club had to cancel Sunday’s race meeting in Sha Tin – the first such action in five years – reflecting how seriously the storm was being taken in a city that would require a serious emergency to shut down its favourite pastime. The Jockey Club planned to make up for it with a replacement meeting on December 29 to make sure it would not lose an estimated HK$1.2 billion in betting turnover.
With Mangkhut forecast to make landfall over the west of China’s Guangdong province, two nuclear power plants in the projected path of the typhoon were “in combat readiness” to respond to any emergency. At the Yanjiang Nuclear Power Station, just 230km west of Hong Kong, workers had secured it’s five generating units and were on high alert. The China Meteorological Administration had its red alert in force – the highest level on a four-tier scale – after warning the south of the country could be put to “a severe test.” Hong Kong’s neighbour, Macau, raised a No 9 warning signal at 9 am, with authorities taking no chances after being criticised for their poor handling of the previous super typhoon that killed 10 people last year. The city’s weather authority said No 10 would follow by 11 am. For the first time in history, local casinos were ordered to suspend operations, from 11 pm on Saturday, after officials “coordinated and discussed” the matter with the city’s six gaming corporations. Mangkhut left at least 12 dead in the Philippines after hammering the northern tip of Luzon island with gale-force winds and torrential rains that brought down power lines and triggered landslides. Officials expected the death toll to rise as the extent of the devastation became clearer.
Severe travel disruptions were expected at Hong Kong International Airport, with local carriers Cathay Pacific, Cathay Dragon and Hong Kong Airlines cancelling all 543 flights scheduled for Sunday, affecting about 96,000 travellers. On Sunday morning the Airport Authority said 889 flights had been delayed or cancelled. It planned to deploy extra manpower for maintenance while keeping restaurants and convenience stores open for stranded passengers. The last aircraft to leave was Singapore Airlines flight SQ001 at 7.43am. While most public transport services in the city were expected to grind to a halt, the MTR Corporation said it would try to keep trains running, but warned of disruptions due to flooding and power failures. However, by 8.30am on Sunday all light rail, MTR bus and train services with open sections had been suspended after the No 9 signal was raised, including the Airport Express and part of the Island Line between Heng Fa Chuen and Chai Wan. With low-lying areas such as Lei Yue Mun and Tai O facing the risk of flooding, the Civil Aid Service on Saturday deployed staff to help residents take precautions while appealing to those in the riskiest areas to move to temporary shelters.
Credit: Su Xinqi, Kanis Leung and Sum Lok-kei for South China Morning Post, 16 September 2018. Additional reporting by Naomi Ng, Sarah Zheng, Tom Biddington and Karen Zhang.