PLA troops deployed to help with typhoon relief efforts as Macau braces itself for new storm

An uprooted tree is seen resting on a parked car in Macau on Aug 24, 2017.
An uprooted tree is seen resting on a parked car in Macau on Aug 24, 2017. PHOTO: AFP

MACAU (REUTERS) - Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) troops were deployed onto the streets of Macau on Friday (Aug 25) to help clean up in the aftermath of a devastating typhoon and amid mounting criticism authorities were unprepared for the severity of the storm. 

Hong Kong's South China Morning Post, calling the deployment "unprecedented", said it is the first time the PLA troops have left its garrison since the handover of the Portuguese enclave to Chinese sovereignty in 1999.

Macau public broadcaster, TDM, reported some 1,000 Chinese PLA troops left their Macau barracks to assist in the recovery. Chinese troops are rarely seen on the streets of Macau.  

Dressed in fatigues and caps, some used shovels to shift mounds of stinking rubbish and debris cluttering public spaces, including smashed furniture, sofa and televisions, while processions of green military trucks rumbled along roads.  

Macau’s leader Fernando Chui had requested the Chinese army’s involvement in “disaster relief” after the highest category 10 Typhoon Hato pummelled the world’s biggest gambling hub on Wednesday, the government said in a statement.  Under Macau law, the assistance of Chinese troops can be sought for such humanitarian purposes. 

Typhoon Hato, a number 10 force typhoon, caused extensive damage in the former Portuguese enclave: a near city-wide blackout, water supply disruptions and serious flooding in the city of 600,000.

Many of Macau's large casinos were relying on back-up generators.

Authorities in Macau are struggling to restore order in the city,  with some residents having to queue for water from fire hydrants. Some supermarkets and convenience stores were out of stock of bottled water .

Empty supermarket shelves were an astonishing sight for many residents, who had not experienced water shortages, reported Macau Daily Times.

Mounds of rubbish and debris including toppled trees were still being cleared from the streets, and some buildings required extensive repairs after windows imploded in the storm. Its emergency services were overwhelmed by calls for help.

Transportation remained in chaos, with damage to both of Macau's ferry terminals and roads crammed with traffic.

Schools, museums and public venues remained closed on Thursday.

"The city looks like it was just in a war," one civil servant, who declined to be named, was quoted as saying by Reuters.

The Macau government said on Friday the death toll rose to nine, after rescuers found another body in an underground carpark and authorities scrambled to deal with the storm's aftermath and mounting public criticism.

Even as nearby Hong Kong shut down and closed financial markets for the day on Wednesday, Macau's authorities failed to raise a sufficiently high typhoon warning signal, critics said, leading many residents to go to work the same day the storm hit.

Chui apologised to the public on Thursday and offered his condolences to the victims and their families.

He also announced that Fong Soi Kun, director of Macau's Meteorological and Geophysical Bureau, had stepped down.

The Hong Kong Observatory said a tropical depression forming east of the Philippines would strengthen into a tropical storm on Friday, when it will be named Pakhar, reported South China Morning Post.

The maximum strength of this possible new storm is expected to be far below that of Hato.

According to its first predicted track for Pakhar, released at 8pm on Thursday night, the Hong Kong Observatory estimated a 70 per cent chance that Macau would be in the storm's path early next week, the same probability as that for Hong Kong, Zhuhai and some other areas in southern Guangdong.

Macau has been rapidly transformed since its return from Portuguese to Chinese rule in 1999 into a gambling hub many times larger than Las Vegas, with major US casinos piling in, according to Reuters.

Infrastructure, however, has mostly failed to keep pace with its development despite the rise of a wave of glitzy new casino resorts.

"The government cannot handle the challenge as the people would expect from a self-claimed first-class city," said Macau resident and political commentator Larry So.

Hong Kong is regularly besieged by typhoons between July and October, but direct hits are rare.

It is rare for Macau to suffer such extensive damage from a typhoon.