Hong Kong residents battle debris to get to work after devastating typhoon

Police clear rubbish and debris from a street after Typhoon Mangkhut hit Macau, on Sept 17, 2018. PHOTO: AFP
A woman steps through rubbish and debris left by Typhoon Mangkhut in Macau, on Sept 16, 2018. PHOTO: AFP

HONG KONG (AFP) - Hong Kong commuters clambered over fallen trees and piles of debris on Monday (Sept 17) in a battle to get to work, as the workaholic city strove to get back to business after a devastating typhoon.

Commuters crammed into stations to try to board infrequent trains after the rail system was slowed by damaged power lines. All buses were cancelled because many roads were blocked by fallen trees.

Some residents tackled an obstacle course to get to their jobs, climbing over broken branches, uprooted trees and even train tracks.

Schools were closed and a clean-up was in full swing, but there was anger that city leader Carrie Lam had not announced an official day off for workers.

When asked why she had not done so, Ms Lam told reporters it was up to employers to make that decision, but they must not penalise workers who were late or could not make it.

A picture of a large crowd of commuters squashed into northern Tai Wai station went viral on social media with the hashtag #thankscarrie.

"There were trees down all over the place, no cars, no buses," said lawyer David Milligan, who works in Hong Kong's commercial hub of Central.

"I've got my trainers on today because I knew I would be climbing over things," he told AFP.

The storm took dozens of lives in the Philippines. No one was killed in Hong Kong, but more than 300 people were injured.

Hong Kong resonated with the sound of saws and drills as workers tried to clear paths and roadways and fix damaged buildings, with many windows blown out in homes, office blocks and hotels, roofs torn off and fixtures including signs and lights hanging loose.

Awestruck workers gathered to take pictures of skyscrapers whose windows had been punched through.

One flight attendant staying with colleagues at a harbourside hotel told AFP they hid in the bathroom to keep safe as the windows of their rooms were smashed and winds swept away their belongings.

In coastal areas, parkland and roadways were blanketed with rubbish and rocks washed inland after sea levels surged.

In the neighbourhood of Tseung Kwan O, which is packed with tower blocks and was rocked by the typhoon, residents described their terror during the storm.

"I could feel our building swaying when the wind blew. Our family wanted to get down to the lobby, but all the lifts were suspended," said a 62-year-old who gave her name as Mrs Fu.

In the low-lying coastal village of Lei Yue Mun, famous for its seafood, residents young and old gingerly navigated rocks, glass, shells and branches.

The village, which is in sight of the city's skyscrapers but remains a low-rise warren of lanes, was pounded by waves that flooded streets and homes.

Many residents were sweeping out muddy water from their houses on Monday.

Furniture and appliances had been completely destroyed in the homes of some, including one resident who gave his name as Cheng.

He said he had spent months putting his home back together after Typhoon Hato struck last year.

He told AFP he would prefer to move to a high-rise public housing block, but waiting lists were too long.

"I'll deal with this calmly," he said.

Some village residents said they had no choice but to abandon their homes before the storm hit, but others took the risk of remaining.

"Our place is newly renovated, if we left we would lose everything," said one resident who gave his name as Mr Ng. He had stayed to make his own flood barriers from wood and sandbags, and had scooped out water as it washed in.

Residents said large breakwaters had been installed along the coastline earlier this year to protect against flooding and some homes were given metal flood shields for their doors.

With fears that storms will worsen due to climate change, it is seafront villages like those at Lei Yue Mun that could bear the brunt, said architecture professor Edward Ng of the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

"Because of sea levels rising and bigger storms coming, these are the areas that are tremendously vulnerable," he told AFP.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.