‘Prepare for the worst’ from monster storm: HK minister

A woman secures her belongings outside of her home at a village in Lei Yue Mun in preparation for approaching Typhoon Mangkhut in Hong Kong on Friday, (AP photo)

Hongkongers have been told to prepare for the worst as Super Typhoon Mangkhut barrels its way towards the city.

On Friday, Security Minister John Lee Ka-chiu said he was expecting a storm of “extraordinary speed, scope and severity”, and said government departments were being put on alert to react “as soon as needed”.

The monster storm is predicted to bring destructive winds and rain to the city on Sunday, and the government is making plans to evacuate some 2,000 people from Tai O, one of several at-risk areas in Hong Kong.

As the winds and rain brought by Mangkhut are expected to come in extraordinary speed, scope and severity, I have ordered all parties [more than 30 bureaus, official departments and public organisations] to prepare for the worst,” Lee said.

“All the necessary tools, equipment and manpower must be ready in advance and able to react as soon as they are needed.

“All departments involved must submit their list of commanders and contact persons, as well as report of preparatory works to the Emergency Monitoring and Support Centre of the Security Bureau.”

The Hong Kong Observatory’s 4pm (3pm Thailand time) advisory put Mangkhut, which is the equivalent of a category 5 Atlantic hurricane, at around 520 kilometres northeast of Manila. It is forecast to move west-northwest at about 28km/h towards the northern part of Luzon, before coming within 200km of Hong Kong on Sunday evening.

Cheng Cho-ming, the Observatory’s assistant director, said a No 8 typhoon signal was likely to be issued on Sunday. A very hot weather warning was in effect on Friday in the city, and is expected to continue tomorrow, when temperatures are predicted to reach 35 degrees Celsius.

“Whether a higher warning will be put into effect will depend on changes to Mangkhut after it goes through Luzon in the Philippines, and how close it will get to Hong Kong on Sunday,” Cheng said.

“The weather on Saturday will remain sunny and hot, but it will deteriorate quickly on Sunday, with strong winds and heavy rains. Though Mangkhut is supposed to leave Hong Kong on Monday, there will still be strong winds and heavy showers.

Earlier, Hong Kong’s leader had urged the city’s residents not to be storm chasers as the government ramps up its preparations for the arrival of the tropical cyclone.

An employee tapes a glass door of a restaurant ahead of Super Typhoon Mangkhut's arrival in Hong Kong on Friday. (Bloomberg photo)

On Friday, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor convened a second meeting to coordinate contingency plans among dozens of departments on how to react to the storm.

With a massive rain band 900km wide, district offices have contacted representatives of flood-prone areas such as Lei Yue Mun, Tai O, and outlying islands to appeal for residents to move to safe or temporary shelters.

Vega Wong Sau-wai, assistant director of the Home Affairs Department, said: “This is the first time in recent years that the government has to arrange coaches to transport residents from low-lying areas to shelters in face of a typhoon.

“About 2,000 residents in Tai O are advised to leave. Among them, our major targets are the 300 to 400 individuals living in squatter housing.

“We will arrange two coaches to take the Tai O residents to our shelter in batches tomorrow. As for the residents in Lei Yue Mun, since the shelter is set up in the Lei Yue Mun Sports Centre, which is close to the areas that are expected to be affected by floods, there will be no coach service.”

The chief executive said her administration had prepared early for the arrival of the super typhoon, and said the Emergency Monitoring and Support Centre -- spearheaded by the Security Bureau -- would be activated soon after the T3 has been hoisted.

“I hope citizens will stay indoors and not go outside, especially not to check out the storm surge, or surf, as that would not only put themselves in danger, but also put pressure on rescue services,” Lam said.

“We are taking every step to prepare Hong Kong for this typhoon,” Lam said. 

“In Hong Kong, we have a duty as the government to make all the necessary preparations, included mobilising all the relevant departments to make precautionary measures.

“During the typhoon we need to be able to respond effectively to mitigate any damage or any loss of lives and injuries.”

In preparation for the heavy rain expected, the Drainage Services Department is installing flood barriers in low-lying areas such as Tai O, Lei Yue Mun and Heng Fa Chuen, while the Home Affairs Department is ready to help residents evacuate if necessary, Lam said.

That included arranging coaches to ferry residents from Tai O, where many seniors live.

More than 40 temporary shelters will open to the public once the T3 is issued, Lam added.

She also said the relevant departments were trying to draw in extra manpower, in a bid to restore the city to its normal state as soon as possible once Mangkhut had passed.

Asked if she feared the super typhoon would put infrastructure, such as the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge, in danger, Lam said the bridge, and other public work projects, had been designed to survive natural disasters to a certain extent.

Design flaws in the multibillion-dollar mega bridge were highlighted in July, after video footage emerged showing serious flooding and water seepage in a basement inside the passenger clearance building on an artificial island, on the Hong Kong side of the bridge.


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