The most intense storm in Hong Kong’s history caused a record storm surge, uprooted some 1,500 trees, and left hundreds of windows smashed all over the city, officials said on Monday.
As the long process of recovering from Typhoon Mangkhut began in earnest, Secretary for Security John Lee Ka-chiu called the damage “serious and extensive”, and said the number of calls for help, or reports of injury, was as much as five times higher than when Typhoon Hato battered Hong Kong in August last year.
The Hong Kong Observatory said the intensity of the storm, which required a typhoon signal No 10 to stay in place for 10 hours, was the most powerful since records began in 1946.
“The initial analysis showed that, throughout the life cycle of Mangkhut, the maximum sustained winds near the centre once reached 250 kilometres per hour,” Li Ping-wah, a senior science officer, said.
The Observatory’s track information showed the record-breaking wind speed was recorded at 2am on Saturday, when Mangkhut had made landfall in the northern Luzon region of the Philippines.
By the time the storm reached Hong Kong, the wind had dropped to 175km/h (109mph).
There were record levels of storm surge too, with flood waters reaching their highest levels since 1904, according to the city’s forecaster.
According to the latest figures, the maximum storm surges recorded at Quarry Bay and Tai Po Kau were 2.35 metres and 3.38 metres respectively, higher than the 1.77m surge bought by Typhoon Wanda in 1962 to Quarry Bay, and the 3.23m surge in Tai Po Kau under Typhoon Hope in 1979.
As the storm made its destructive way across Hong Kong, the No 10 signal remained in place between 9.40am and 7.40pm on Sunday, only one hour shorter than the record set by Typhoon York, which ravaged the city for 11 hours in September 1999.
“Mangkhut was a highly destructive tropical cyclone,” said senior science officer Lee Suk-ming on Monday. “It brought Hong Kong a record-breaking storm surge, which was more severe than those brought by Typhoon Wanda and Typhoon Hope.”
Li said the stronger storm surge in the Victoria Harbour could be attributed to years of reclamation. “It’s common sense that such works will make the seas higher when extreme weather hits,” he said.
Lee said that there had been nine serious floods, which was double the number Hato had caused, although the waters had generally receded. Other damage came from downed trees and smashed windows.
“We received about 1,500 reports of fallen trees [on Sunday], more than double the figure caused by Hato,” he said. “There were also 400 to 500 reports of broken windows caused by Mangkhut, three times the figure caused by Hato.”
The security minister said between 1,400 and 1,500 people sought refuge at government shelters on Sunday, five times the record in the past. While 394 people were injured, almost four times as many as in last year’s storm.
The police, meanwhile, received 20,000 calls for help on Sunday, compared to about 6,000 they receive on a normal weekend. Of those 20,000, 8,000 came into the emergency call centre, forcing police to use 200 phone lines to handle the inquiries, Lee added.
“[To deal with Mangkhut on Sunday], we mobilised 15,000 officers, including frontline staff members, from different departments,” Lee said.
In the aftermath of the storm, Lee said removing road obstacles, such as fallen trees and signs, was the government’s priority.
“Work is also needed to be done on 21 roads, so that they can be completely reopened,” he said.
The government will also conduct a citywide inspection of trees, to remove potentially dangerous branches, while residents should remain vigilant to the threat of falling branches.
Lee added that some places, such as Cheung Chau and Heng Fa Chuen, were still without water or electricity, and officials are working on solving those problems through the government’s emergency coordination centre.