Thursday, August 15, 2013

Typhoon Utor Brushes Hong Kong

A Star Ferry pulls into the Hong Kong ferry terminal during Super Typhoon Utor

I was in Hong Kong this week. It was a sort of vacation from Bangkok. My wife and I relaxed for a couple of days, did some touristy things and caught up with Hong Kong based friends. It was a great few days until the end when Super Typhoon Utor blew into town. 

Typhoons are the same as hurricanes, which are the same as cyclones. Whether a storm is a hurricane or typhoon or cyclone depends on where it formed

Hong Kong media started talking about the typhoon over the weekend and the typhoon warnings went up Monday afternoon, after the typhoon had already lashed the Philippines causing extensive damage
People shop in an outdoor market in central Hong Kong while rain bands from Utor sweep over the island.

Hong Kong has a sophisticated typhoon response system. Warnings go up well in advance of the storm. When they reach level 8 things get serious. This is trickier than it sounds though since warnings go up at level 3 (meaning a typhoon is imminent) and skip levels 4, 5, 6, and 7. From 3 they go straight to 8 (typhoon is here, take cover). 


If you’re a first time visitor to Hong Kong you might see the warnings at level 3, read that things get serious at level 8 and think you have four intermediate levels to prepare for the storm. You’d be wrong. 

When it goes to level 8, daily life essentially stops. Schools close, many businesses close, and surface transportation (buses, trams, taxis) suspend service. It’s time to hunker down and wait out the storm. 

Tuesday, as the storm got closer, brought lots of rain and wind to Hong Kong. People went up their daily routines albeit with umbrellas and rain gear. 
A man fishes off the Star Ferry pier in Hong Kong

I spent Tuesday making pictures of people in the rain. It was raining, sometimes raining really hard, and it was windy. As the afternoon went on the winds increased but it wasn’t too bad - no worse than the average thunderstorm in Bangkok, Florida, Arizona or any of the other places we’ve lived. It wasn’t raining hard enough to send me indoors and I didn’t even break out any of my rain gear. But it was a foregone conclusion that the storm warnings would go to 8 overnight Tuesday into Wednesday. 

We woke Wednesday to a storm warning of 8. Everything in Hong Kong was shut down and flights at the airport suspended for the duration of the storm. Our flight from Hong Kong to Bangkok was scheduled for 10.45AM and our carrier sent us an email informing us that the flight was cancelled because of the storm. We headed out to the airport early in spite of the storm because we decided it would be the best place to rebook our flight.
People sleep in the departure area of Terminal 1 in Hong Kong’s airport. Storm warning 8 is displayed on the flight status board in the background

The airport was jammed with travelers stranded by the storm. We checked with our carrier and we were told that our flight was no longer cancelled but was delayed by about 14 hours. Our flight scheduled for 10.45AM Wednesday, now *might* leave at about 00.15AM (15 minutes after midnight) Thursday. Might because no one at the airline counter in Hong Kong really knew if or when it would leave, but by postponing it rather than canceling outright the airline wouldn’t provide us with refunds or allow us to rebook. 

We found a place to wait out the storm. My wife “nested” while I went to work in the terminal photographing people stranded by the storm. 
Women watch movies on an iPad while they wait for information about their flight. 

The storm‘s impact on Hong Kong was not as bad as it had been in the Philippines. It never made landfall in Hong Kong (it came ashore about 250 kilometers west of Hong Kong in mainland China), so all we experienced was continuous (and sometimes heavy) rain and wind. It was just close enough to Hong Kong to disrupt life but didn’t cause any damage. 

The truth is a new, modern airport, like the one in Hong Kong, is not a bad place to wait out a storm. It’s built to withstand storm force rains and wind, there’s reliable electricity for our computers and devices, the wifi works so we can get online, food courts and shops are open so nourishment is nearby and there are distractions to help pass the time.

I sent some photos to ZUMA and then together my wife and I waited out of the storm. There are more photos from the storm in my archive or available from ZUMA.

Finally, most of the photos in my archive are available for editorial use or self fulfillment as prints. If you see something you'd like to use or just hang on the wall, click on the "Add to Cart" button and follow the onscreen prompts.