Macau leader Fernando Chui apologises to residents over Typhoon Hato havoc

HONG KONG (REUTERS, AFP) - Chaos and confusion gripped Macau on Thursday (Aug 24) after one of the strongest typhoons on record hit the territory, killing at least nine people, and leaving more than half the city still without water and power, and casinos relying on back-up generators.  

Macau’s leader Fernando Chui and other government ministers bowed their heads during a minute’s silence at an evening press conference.  

“These two days, we have faced an extremely difficult test together. Hato is the strongest typhoon in 53 years and has brought tremendous damage to 
Macau,” Chui told reporters.  

“In facing this disaster, we admit we have not done enough, there is space for improvement. Here I represent the Macau government in expressing our apologies to the residents,” he said, adding that the city’s meteorological bureau chief had resigned.

Rescuers on Thursday searched submerged cars for trapped people in the former Portuguese territory, while overwhelmed emergency services scrambled to respond to crisis calls.  Many residents and tourists complained that the government was woefully unprepared for Typhoon Hato and its destructive winds of more than 200 kmh (124 mph).  

Macau’s government broadcaster TDM said Typhoon Hato, a maximum signal 10 storm, was the strongest since 1968 to hit the world’s biggest gambling hub and home to around 600,000 people.

 
 

“The city looks like it was just in a war,” said one civil servant, who declined to be named as they were not authorised to speak to the media.

"I have never seen Macau like this since I came here in the 70s,” a taxi driver aged in his 50s who gave his name as Lao told AFP.  “It’s like they were trying to gamble with their luck,” Lao said adding that authorities had reacted too slowly and did too little to alert residents of the coming storm.  

CASINOS RUNNING ON BACK-UP GENERATORS

Blacked-out slot machines were seen at the largely empty Wynn Macau casino where there was no air conditioning and a musty atmosphere.  However, a few dozen gamblers ignored the heat and tried their luck at four baccarat tables.

While most of Macau’s large casinos, especially those operating on the Las Vegas style Cotai strip, were trying to operate as normal, many were relying on back-up generators.  

A member of staff at the Grand Lisboa Hotel in central Macau told AFP on Thursday (Aug 24) that it was still without electricity following the typhoon.

“There is no water and no electricity,” the person said, adding that both the restaurant and casino were closed.  Footage showed people holding plastic buckets queuing on the sidewalks to collect drinking water.  

Casino stocks listed in Hong Kong fell versus a rise in the benchmark Hang Seng Index on Thursday with the full impact on gambling revenues and economic cost still unknown, analysts said.  

Hato on Wednesday hit the nearby financial hub of Hong Kong, uprooting trees, flooding streets, forcing hundreds of airline flights to be cancelled and halting financial trading. More than 120 were injured as hurricane winds and pounding rain lashed the city, which had not been hit by a signal 10 typhoon for five years.  

At one stage as Hato intensified, Hong Kong posted a signal 8 storm warning, saying it was likely to go higher, yet Macau’s government rated Hato only a signal 3 typhoon.

“I am shocked with the late notice and lack of preparation that was given for this superstorm. Residents are in peril and unable to assess if help is on the way,” said Ashley Sutherland-Winch, a marketing consultant in Macau.  

Exteriors of buildings, including parts of multi-billion dollar casinos, were ripped away by Hato’s powerful winds.  Video footage from Macau residents sent to Reuters showed a man struggling to keep his head above water in an enclosed carpark filled with debris, while another showed a large truck toppling over and pedestrians flung across pavements. Reuters could not independently verify the footage.

Nolan Ledarney, director of Crafted 852, a food website in Hong Kong, who was staying inside Galaxy’s casino resort with his wife and three children said guests had been corralled into safe areas.  Severe flooding overwhelmed Macau, which is in the process of building new infrastructure such as a light rail, to cope with a surge in visitors.  

Macau has rapidly transformed from a sleepy fishing village over a decade ago into a major gambling hub, although infrastructure has mostly failed to keep pace with its development.  

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 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. 

“The city looks like it was just in a war,” said one civil servant, who declined to be named as they were not authorised to speak to the media.

At least one heritage site was confirmed by the Macau Daily Times to have suffered substantial damage - a small reading room on the corner of Rua do Campo and Avenida da Praia Grande - which had its roof torn off.

Ferry terminals and some of the border checkpoints also suffered damage and will remain closed in the near future.

A picture of the Macau Cultural Centre obtained by the Times showed the building's roof had been bent out of shape.

FERRY SERVICES RESUMED

The storm also caused extensive damage in Hong Kong which had raised its most severe Typhoon 10 warning, only the third time a storm of this power has pounded the financial hub in the past 20 years.

Hong Kong is regularly besieged by typhoons between July and October, but direct hits are rare. At its peak, Hato was packing gusts topping 193kmh, making it stronger than Typhoon Vicente, the last storm to trigger a No. 10 warning signal.

The city saw its strongest storm in 1962 when the eye of typhoon Wanda passed over and gusts of 284kmh were recorded. It killed 130 people and left 72,000 people homeless.

Ferry services between Macau and Hong Kong resumed Thursday morning but passengers said they experienced delays.

An 83-year-old Hong Kong man died after he fell into the sea, police said. More than 120 were injured as the territory was lashed with hurricane winds and pounding rain.

Economic losses were estimated at HK$4 billion (S$700 million) to HK$8 billion as the stock market, businesses, offices and schools remained closed throughout the day on Wednesday, reported South China Morning Post.

Hong Kong International Airport, one of the region’s busiest cargo and passenger hubs,  has had to keep two runways open overnight to handle the backlog of flights.

In the neighbouring southern Chinese province of Guangdong, at least eight people have died, state broadcaster CCTV reported, while around 27,000 were evacuated to temporary shelters, the official Xinhua news agency said.

Nearly two million households were briefly without power.  China Central Television said four of the mainland deaths had occurred in Zhuhai, three in Zhongshan and one in Jiangmen.

Around 90 bullet trains between Shenzhen and cities in Fujian and Jiangxi provinces have been cancelled on Wednesday, according to a Xinhua report.  

Hato was downgraded to a tropical depression Thursday afternoon as it travelled further into China. Guangdong, Fujian, Zhejiang and Taiwan will see torrential rain and gales in the coming days.