How to Survive a Typhoon.
First of all on hearing about an impending typhoon, there are a few
things that need to be prepared:
Actually this was to be my first experience of a Tai Feng ( typhoon
from Chinese meaning 'Great Wind') but I'd heard enough from other expats
here about typhoons to know not to take any unneccessary risks (like venturing
outside for no reason.) By about 1:00pm the winds and rain had risen enough
to serve as an example of what was to come.
Water (for drinking and washing.).
Food for a few days (just in case - instant noodles are fine.)
Candles (again just in case.)
A TV with cable connection.
A scrabble board (just in case the TV fails.)
A gathering of friends (expat. colleagues will do fine.)
Alcohol is not a neccessity (but is recommended.)
I'd gotten up late, being tired out from being in the middle
of moving house, cleaning my new place and making it habitable (I was staying
at a friend's house during this proccess). I really didn't feel like getting
up anyway, because I was still tired but hearing of the impending
typhoon I knew I had to get up, get in some groceries and have lunch. I
ate a lunch of rice, fish and mixed vegetables from a place just over the
road and had just finished when the winds suddenly got up, throwing boxes
and lunch trays around the open fronted restaurant. Cries of 'Lai le',
(it's here) went up among stall holders in the market area around the restaurant
as they hurried to secure awnings and light objects against the gusts.
Luckily I didn't have far to walk to my friend's house and as luck would
have it as I was leaving the restaurant Dan, my friend, was in a restaurant
on the opposite side of the road sheltering from the driving rain.We decided
that we'd probably be staying in for at least the rest of the day, seeing
as our classes were cancelled and 'officially' the city was to be 'closed'
at 2:00pm, including schools, governmental offices and public transport.
(Buses, trains and between 30 to 40 passenger and cargo flights were cancelled
in anticipation of the typhoon.)
Thinking that we may as well make the best of an excuse to take a day
off we stocked up on the local Taiwan Beer (a good six bottles to start
with) and 'pot-noodle' style instant noodles meals. Then back to the flat.
It wasn't long before Richard and Pete, Dan's roommates, were back, although
Pete left again to stay at his girlfriend's. Shirley, Dan's girlfriend,
came over too and so began a heavy afternoon of consuming Taiwan Beer,
playing Scrabble and watching the weather reports on TV - with occasionally
braving the balconey of the second floor apartment to see what was happening
Now you may think I'm belittling the devestating power of these storms
by talking about staying in and drinking, but when you see what we see
on the weather reports and outside our own windows you'll see exactly why
we take no chances.
At the lower end of the scale we can see tree branches torn off, scuttled
scooters laying dead in the road and feel the wind against the windows
and to be honest Taiwanese thoughts on safety differ vastly from those
in the West. There are many huge metal and plastic signs fixed onto the
sides of buildings that would do a lot of damage, or more seriously, kill
someone outright if blown loose. At the higher end of the scale we see
on TV demolition of property and the flooding in areas of the island still
devestated by the 921 earthquake last year, (so called because it happened
on September 21. )
Reports of the typhoon's windspeeds reaching up to 234km p/h were released
yesterday as the epicentre hit about 190km from Taitung at around 4:00pm
on the south-east of the island. The strengthening's typhoons diameter
was estimated at about 600km which is 200km more than the lenght of the
island itself. The Central Weather Bureau has compared Bilis to Typhoon
Tim in 1994 which took the same route from the south-east to the
north-west and left 17 dead, six missing and 70 injured. This was later
shadowed by Typhoon Winnie in 1996, which being the worst affecting typhoon
for 30 years, left 43 dead, 24 missing and at least 455 injured.
According to most recent reports Bilis has so far claimed eleven lives,
one person is missing in Hualien and a group of nine, comprising of a TV
crew and three government officials, is stranded in mountain areas near
Kaohsiung. As yet as many as 80 people have been injured. Power to an approximate 1,000 households was cut in Ilan county,
and also to households on Green Island and Lanyu Island. An estimated 40,000 homes islandwide have been left without power despite efforts by Taipower, the state-run power company, to avoid a repeat of the power outage which blacked out most of Northern Taiwan last July. According to a spokesperson for Taipower transmission towers thought to be most at risk have been reinforced in an attempt to avoid loss of power. Taipower has also teamed up with the Ministry of National Defence to establish nationwide disaster relief centres to aid the public in case of power cuts.
The power of the winds was evident all through the day as our Scrabble
game and beer consumption continued. At one point in the evening I took
a trip to the roof of the apartment building, luckily avoiding a long wooden
ladder, previously perched against a wall, falling to the floor on my left
side, to get absolutely soaked while amazed that some people below
were still braving the elements for reasons only known to themselves. As
a tribute to the courage of (and maybe intelligence of) my friends, I should
remark that I did get an invite to a 'typhoon party' at a friend's place
about a ten minute drive away from Dan's. I did however decline to go due
to the lack of taxis, the effects of sitting in all day and consuming Taiwan
Beer and... the fact that we were in the middle of a Typhoon.
The day after, debris from rooves littering the streets, leaves and
branches blown into the stairwell of the apartment if not whole trees felled by the storm, twisted TV aerials
and corrugated iron roof tops ripped from houses and shops they're put
onto to protect, bore witness to the absolute power of nature. Yet again this was in Taipei, which again got off relatively lightly. Nantou devestated by last years quake was badly hit again as rooves of 23 prefab houses, shelter for victims of the earthquake, were ripped off by the winds. Left to take charge as President Chen Shui Bien is on a state visit to Burkina Fasu, Vice President Annette Lu was quoted as saying "It seems as if Nantou has a share in every natural disaster."
Yet, despite the still heavy winds and driving rain, many small market stalls and shops
were already open and serving customers as we ventured out to see the damage
caused early this morning. It seems, despite the threat to the physical wellbeing of the hardy people of Taiwan, the economic threat of missing another days
business means that, for some, all continues - just business as usual.