While Canada has its snow days, and Australia and the US can go on high alert for fire dangers, Taiwan’s typhoons also pose real threats to people and property.
By Stuart Hill
It is a typical Taiwan office scenario. The weather is looking bad. Taiwan’s Central Weather Bureau has already announced that the typhoon that formed somewhere near the Philippines, the south coast of China, or one of the islands of Japan, is likely to hit Taiwan in the next day. The news coverage is already promising huge disasters. Now everyone is waiting in eager anticipation for the government to announce a typhoon day so they can all stay at home.
For the government, making the call to stay at home and “stop work, stop classes” is a difficult decision to make. On one hand Taiwan’s powerful business lobby is whispering about the country’s huge drop in export revenue from one day’s absence from the office or factory, while on the other hand millions of exhausted employees are desperately hoping for a bonus day of rest.
Whichever way the government decides, they’ll receive criticism. Sometimes they compromise and keep students at home and keep the workers at work — which draws even more complaints from working parents. At other times, they keep everyone at home and the sun comes out and the city shops fill with an extra day of weekend-like business. And at other times, the government fails in its preparations or emergency response efforts and a city floods or a mountain slide kills hundreds of people.
Whatever the case, typhoons are a kind “someone’s going to lose” phenomenon. For anyone living in Taiwan, they are a part of the lifestyle. No one typhoon is ever the same, though they do tend to follow similar pattens. Their impact can depend on the size, direction, speed, their time spent intensifying at sea, the volume of rain they drop in a given period, and the capacity of the urban and natural environment to absorb the impact. That’s why the best thing to do for any typhoon, is to prepare for the worst and to focus on your safety first.
In the past 10 or so years, arguably Typhoon Nari is one of the most memorable to hit northern Taiwan and Taipei in particular. Whether due to poor timing or bad management, the pump system that normally removes water from the city failed, and huge sections of north-eastern Taipei were flooded. Extensive damage occurred, especially as many basements were quickly inundated, including the newly completed Banan MRT line, and the impact was felt for days, weeks, and even months afterward. Other areas of Taipei and surrounding districts were effected too. For some residents in low-lying areas of XiZhi, for example, the water rose to the second floor of apartments.
Typhoon Morakot also delivered disaster on a huge scale in 2009. A building was shown on TV news falling into a river, while huge downpours created a massive landslide that buried the township of XiaoLin in southern Taiwan. Human activity, such as land clearing, unsafe building practices, as well as poor execution of emergency services exacerbated the dangers. Around 500 people were reportedly killed after being buried alive in XiaoLin, and many more left homeless. Financial damage caused by the typhoon was estimated at the time to be around US$3 billion.
The Dali Lama came to console the survivors and President Ma apologized for the slow and small response by emergency services. The premier resigned over the poor handling of the situation.
Some tips to enduring a typhoon:
- Watch the TV to understand the official government position concerning your area. If they have nominated your city as a “stop work, stop classes” area, it is because winds are expected to be high and rain is expected to be torrential
- Prepare for 1-2 days of staying indoors. Buy food supplies, a torch and batteries. Make sure you have enough supplies so you can avoid going out. Yes, during less severe typhoons many shops will be open, but don’t rely on the ones you need being so
- Move your car or motor-scooter to higher ground, particularly out of basements or river side parking lots
- Close and lock all windows and doors to prevent the wind and rain from entering your apartment. If the winds are expected to be especially severe — or your apartment windows are exposed — you might consider taping them to reduce the risk from shattering glass
- If you have a balcony, be sure to move plants and any objects that can be lifted by wind to somewhere protected. Clear any drains that are exposed to ensure water can flow from your balcony as fast as possible
- Do not go out onto the streets to experience the typhoon first hand — rain and wind is not the biggest problem, flying debris, falling objects (such as pot plants and air con units) and store signs are
- Prepare for power outages or cut water supplies — recharge your mobile phone and other devices, prepare drinking water, and even fill a bucket with extra water for flushing your toilet if the typhoon has been reported as extremely dangerous
- Don’t be deceived by a sudden calm in the weather — it can pick up at a moment’s notice
- Make sure you have a good book to read or several DVDs to watch to pass the time.