Vicente the vicious visits HK
super typhoon Megi did not come to fruition.JULY 29 — Two years ago I wrote, albeit flippantly, about my disappointment that what was to be
This week, I had a taste of a severe typhoon — Vicente, one level below a super typhoon — and my view point has changed. Typhoons are scary sh*t when you hit the ground, literally running, with baby in arms.
The day started out with light rain that progressed to a heavy downpour. The Hong Kong Observatory had hoisted Typhoon Signal 1 (T1) on Saturday which was elevated to T3 at 5.30am on Monday.
By 2.30pm I was restless and itching to return to the annual Book Fair at the Hong Kong Convention Center in Wan Chai. Despite it pissing outside, my husband and I headed to the city. We split up on arrival, me to the fair and he to Immigration to sort out our daughter’s travel documents.
I was deep in book heaven when at 4.40pm, an announcement boomed across the cavernous hall informing visitors that the T8 signal would be hoisted by 5.45pm and thus the fair would end at 6pm (instead of 10pm).
I knew I had to exit the fair within the next half hour. There were thousands of people in the multi-storey venue and I did not want to be in the crush with my baby when the fair closed.
But first, I had to find a public phone. I had left my mobile at home and knew my husband would be frantic, picturing me staring trans-like at books while our baby wailed and people pushed past me to get out of the building.
I finally located a free phone call booth after 20 minutes. My husband was in the hall, searching for us. I have never been so relieved to see him.
It was 5.30pm by then and we were too late. A sea of bodies was making its way down three flights of escalators. Thankfully a female guard saw us and hurried us and another family with young children to a cordoned off area where the elevator was.
When we arrived at the exit on the ground floor, we saw that traffic had come to a standstill. The rain was slicing horizontally and the trees looked like they were about to be ripped out from the ground.
The only safe choice was to take a series of pedestrian bridges. The crowd from the book fair was joined by the office crowd as work let out early in light of the T8 warning.
We shuffled our feet, huddled together to keep our baby from being soaked by the rain. I was grateful to the well-mannered Hong Kong people who maintained decorum despite trying to rush home.
All the taxis we tried to flag down were either full or on call. It was later reported in the Press that fares went up as much as 10-fold, with some passenger paying as much as $300 (RM120) for a five-minute journey.
Thinking the bus stop would be the wisest choice, we rushed over in the rain, only to discover two single file queues stretching an entire block — and no one knew what bus they were queuing for; “Just line up and wait”, one man said, shrugging his shoulders.
My friend’s husband was only able to board the seventh bus heading to his destination — meaning some 800 people had been ahead of him.
With baby screaming from the cold and hunger, we left the queue hoping to have better luck finding a taxi elsewhere.
After an hour of wandering around, my husband spotted the familiar red circle lamp on the dashboard and ran for his life to catch the taxi — but not before a quick discussion about the fare. I suppose we got off lucky, having had to pay only double the original fare.
Meanwhile, the wind and rain continued to lash the city. As our taxi weaved its way through narrow streets, we saw a woman fall from the kerb, pushed by the wind. Rubbish spiralled up into the air, heavy shop signboards swung dangerously overhead.
That night, all four of us huddled in our bedroom, blinds pulled down firmly. Our windows shook violently with each gush of rain. I later learnt that other families in our building had shifted from the master bedroom to a smaller room for fear of shattering glass (there was indeed shattered glass strewn across the podium floor the next morning).
The wind howled through our air-conditioner and ventilation fans in the kitchen and bathroom. T9 came in shortly after at 11.20pm and T10 in the early hours of the morning. The last T10 occurred 13 years ago.
My brother-in-law tried to book a taxi to take him to Shenzhen but his regular driver was having none of it — he was staying put at home with his family.
The news showed hundreds of stranded MTR train commuters on the East Rail Line who were forced to spend the night in train compartments and train stations when the storm brought down power cables.
The next morning we saw devastation everywhere: streets were littered with tree branches, trees that were not uprooted were leaning dangerously. It was reported that 1,380 trees were uprooted during Vicente’s furious trail through Hong Kong.
Stories-high bamboo scaffolding had collapsed during the storm and bamboo shrapnel had sprayed across the busy Wong Chuk Hang thoroughfare that connects southern Hong Kong Island to the north.
Garbage bins (secured to railings) along the streets were stuffed with broken umbrellas.
When the typhoon was downgraded to a T3 at 10am, thousands of workers flooded bus stops and train stations, yet there was no chaos. Just endless queues.
The days following Vicente’s landfall saw wet markets devoid of fresh catch; supermarkets did booming business.
Yet, we were fortunate as there were no deaths reported.
Back at the book fair, which was into its final day, exhibitors were kicking up a storm of their own about the forced early closure the night before. Exhibitors complained they lost up to 20 per cent of potential business and demanded an extension, to no avail.
As for me, I will take typhoons as more than a wonder of nature, viewed in awe from the safety of my bedroom.
Note: The sequence of warning signals goes like this: T1 (I am thankful for the breeze), T3 (What to do with the little ones? Nurseries and kindergartens close), T8 (Joyful dance. Schools and workplaces close), T9 (Whoa.) and T10 (Holy...). Work resumes within two hours of T8 warning being called off.
* The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.