MACAU • For the first time, Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) troops were deployed on the streets of Macau yesterday to help clean up in the aftermath of a devastating typhoon, amid criticism that the authorities were unprepared for the storm.
Macau public broadcaster, TDM, reported that some 1,000 Chinese PLA troops left their Macau barracks to assist in the recovery.
Chinese troops are rarely seen on Macau streets. Dressed in fatigues and caps, some used shovels to move mounds of stinking rubbish and debris in public spaces, including smashed furniture, sofas and TV sets, while processions of green military trucks rumbled along roads.
This is the first time the Macau government has sent a request to the Chinese authorities asking for the PLA Macau garrison to assist in relief efforts since Portugal handed the city over to China in 1999.
Typhoon Hato, a maximum signal 10 storm, pummelled the world's biggest gambling hub on Wednesday, killing at least nine people, with scores missing.
Hato, with destructive winds of more than 200kmh, was the worst storm since 1968 to hit Macau, causing almost city-wide blackouts, flooding, disrupting water supplies, smashing scores of vehicles and damaging buildings.
"This is horrible, horrible. We live like refugees," said a resident in her 60s known only as Ms Yeung.
Amid mounting outrage at the government's handling of the storm, including the perceived failure to adequately warn residents as it approached, Macau leader Fernando Chui apologised and said the local observatory's head would step down.
In neighbouring Hong Kong, although 120 people were hurt, there were no fatalities in the city, where careful planning and long experience with extreme weather is credited with limiting the devastation.
Meanwhile, the Hong Kong Observatory was warning of another tropical cyclone heading towards the area and due to make landfall some time tomorrow.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE