Taking early precautions against merciless natural disasters
Severe typhoon Hato ravaged Hong Kong earlier, and its combined effect of gale force winds, torrential rain, massive waves and high tide was astonishing. The Hong Kong Observatory (HKO) had to issue Typhoon Signal number 10 for the first time since 2012. As it is the typhoon season in Hong Kong at present and typhoons may come one after another at any time, we should never let down our guard. I am very grateful to our colleagues of various departments for performing their duties properly and fully co-operating with each other during the typhoon, and to those affected for their patience and understanding. Although there were no major casualties in Hong Kong when Hato struck, we will definitely not take it for granted. I have already asked the departments under the Development Bureau to review their overall prevention and contingency work, so as to take early precautions and make improvements wherever possible to ensure public safety.
The low-lying area of Tai O has always been susceptible to flooding. The day after the typhoon went past Hong Kong, I visited Tai O with District Officer (Islands), Mr LI Ping-wai, Anthony; Director of Drainage Services, Mr TONG Ka-hung, Edwin; and Division Commander (Marine and Off-shore Islands) of the Fire Services Department (FSD), Mr CHAN Wai-ho, to inspect the situation after flooding there. There were scenes on that day that touched me deeply. Although natural disasters are merciless, Hong Kong people have fully demonstrated their efficiency, responsiveness, resilience and perseverance in the face of adversity, while the community has also shown their mutual support and neighbourhood care on all fronts.
Alert system in place and on standby at all times
I learned that, before the hoisting of typhoon signals, colleagues of various government departments, district council members and rural committee representatives had done their best to take various prevention measures. On the day we went to Tai O, I visited some elderly residents of the stilted houses there to find out how they were affected by this severe typhoon. At that time, an elderly grasped my hands and sincerely thanked my government colleagues for visiting her to offer care and help during the typhoon. They helped her lift some of her furniture to a higher level to prevent property damage when flooding came. I am extremely pleased that the flood alert system for Tai O and the emergency response plan put in place earlier by the Drainage Services Department (DSD), the HKO, the Islands District Office, the FSD, the Hong Kong Police Force and other relevant departments have played a vital role when the typhoon hit Hong Kong this time, which enabled the flood alert, co-ordination and evacuation, rescue as well as post-flooding emergency relief work in Tai O to be carried out effectively and in a timely manner.
I was also briefed by the Director of Drainage Services on the flood prevention measures taken in Tai O and other coastal low-lying areas for this typhoon. For example, the DSD installed flood barriers at the riverwall in Tai O before the typhoon arrived so as to enhance its resisting capabilities of huge storm surges. The DSD has also assigned frontline teams to stand guard overnight to closely monitor the rise in water levels, and has taken appropriate measures such as installing flood prevention sand bags and temporary pumping facilities in areas prone to flooding. I notice that the FSD has installed rescue devices near the riverwall in advance, which can be used to lead residents trapped by flooding to safety when necessary.
Full collaboration among departments
In fact, before the arrival of Hato, the DSD has activated its Emergency Control Centre and deployed about 30 frontline teams of more than 130 members in total to handle emergency flooding incidents and stand guard in areas prone to flooding in various districts. For certain low-lying areas susceptible to tidal back flow during typhoons, including Lei Yue Mun Praya Road in Kwun Tong, Luen On San Tsuen and Kar Wo Lei in Tuen Mun, Sham Tseng San Tsuen in Tsuen Wan as well as Nam Wai in Sai Kung, the Government has earlier installed flood prevention facilities such as flood barriers or non-return valves at the riverwall outlets in these areas.
Of course, there is room for improvement for every initiative. Owing to high tide, flooding in certain coastal areas is particularly serious on this occasion. We will never underestimate the damage brought about by typhoons or torrential rain. I have called upon the relevant departments to pay closer attention and see if improvement is needed regarding the prevention and contingency plans, so as to properly carry out flood prevention measures and make preparations in advance. The DSD will continue to liaise with the relevant departments and the local community to conduct discussions on the most suitable flood prevention works, including exploring whether there is room to appropriately extend the coverage of riverwall or flood barriers, and to improve the stop-board facilities to enhance our flood prevention capabilities.
Expediting follow-up work after natural disasters
Apart from conducting routine inspections on a monthly basis, the Water Supplies Department (WSD) also carries out special inspections and clearance of the key locations of various catchwater channels before typhoons hit Hong Kong, so as to ensure that they function properly. During this typhoon, the WSD also especially set up two emergency response centres in North Point and Cheung Sha Wan respectively to co-ordinate various contingency measures and deploy manpower so as to maintain normal water supply. After the passing of typhoon, the WSD immediately inspected all catchwater channels to see if they were damaged or blocked, and inspected the slopes maintained by the WSD to check if there was any landslide or tree collapse that might affect the waterworks and related accesses.
Hong Kong has first-class infrastructure and highly efficient work teams, both of which do not come easily. Very often, a positive comment from the public is an impetus for our colleagues to strive for improvement. We will not underestimate the merciless attack of each and every natural disaster. Instead, we will always remind ourselves to discharge our supervision duties properly, in the hope that the public will work with us to overcome every challenge and hurdle.
27 August, 2017