Monday 23 July 2012

10 out of 10 for Vicente

There are four official warning levels issued by the Hong Kong Observatory during Typhoon season (1,3, 8 and 10) but the first unofficial warning was the gecko in the sink on Saturday morning.

That evening the light in the harbour went distinctly faded and fuzzy as we crossed on the Star Ferry from Tsim Tsa Tsui, as though there was a sandstorm brewing somewhere in Kowloon. Elizabeth reported that her doorman had said something about a typhoon when we bumped into her by the Star Ferry terminal on the central side but we thought little of it.

Then there was a sudden torrential rainstorm during dinner in Central and again on the ferry returning to Lamma Island.

By Sunday morning the sea, which had been like warm brown washing -up  water all week, suddenly felt cool and clear during our morning swim at Hung Shing Ye. Seeing a fish at all is a rarity in Hong Kong waters, which are mostly polluted and overfished but today there was a large shoal of over-excited small silver fish rising and causing a rapid pattering noise on the surface of the water.

By Monday morning it was raining seriously and the official Typhoon warning level was Number One. A tropical storm was developing in the South China Sea but it was still 400km away so this was only a cautionary measure.  No need to panic. Just don’t plan any solo sailing trips across the Taiwan Strait and think about bringing your washing in. I thought it appropriate to tie down the pot plants on the patio, just to enter into the spirit of things.

During the course of Monday the tropical storm somewhere in the South China Sea had turned into Typhoon Vicente and rather than tracking harmlessly west towards Hainan Island, it had turned right 90 degrees and was heading north; straight for us.  Level One was quickly upgraded to Level Three. It was time to start lashing things down.  

The rain was now beating down outside the French windows and squally winds bent the trees over like straws. In the bay, just 92 steps below our patio, the wind was picking up spray from the surface of the silver grey sea and whipping it across the surface of the water. There were now two dozen river trade vessels and coasters visible between the squalls, anchored up in the West Lamma channel, hoping for some shelter from Vicente.

By 5pm we were at Level Eight and mighty Vicente was on his way. He was edging north-west at about 20km per hour towards the Pearl River Estuary and Hong Kong.  At sunset the wind was raging, the rain smashed down in great sheets and for once, there were no mosquitios. I spotted a small frog trying to take shelter in one of my shoes left outside the windows and left him to it.

The night hours were quite magnificent as the storm created an immense din of rain, wind lashed trees, howls, and cracks interspersed with the distant smashes of broken pots and glasses. Sometimes inexplicable scraping noises like a large boulder rubbing against a tin roof. In the background, the steady chorus of frogs croaking and groaning their approval.

Being in the lee of a reasonable sized mountain, we felt we could safely open the patio doors and watch the entire nocturnal display of natural raging violence, as large unidentified flying debris swept past the window. 

Later, the wind changed direction to the south-east and leaves and small pieces of vegetation were being blown in and plastered against the windows by horizontal rainwater spraying in all directions. The patio chairs, carefully stacked and pressed against a sheltered wall were found lying on their back in a hedge on the other side if the flat. It was time to shut the doors and lock them.

By midnight just as we went to bed the warning was raised to Ten for the first time since 1999.  A huge potted plant tied by me to a steel railing was effortlessly bowled over. The bamboo bowed and ducked as wave after wave of rain was smashed down on it by the winds. Lightning flashed through the darkness but the sound of thunder was lost in the cacophony created by the wind.

The next morning the worst was over and it was possible to survey the scene of the worst teenage party you could imagine. Every path littered with branches and leaves of every shape and size. Our sea view had expanded by 25% as the top section of a tree in front of us had been chewed off and spat on the ground. Even narrow spindly branches from hedges had been savagely ripped off by the Typhoon, which had never reached closer than about 30 km from our home. It veered west again about 2am and headed for Macau but that was close enough for comfort.

The tall trees on the beach which families had shaded under last Saturday had been uprooted and dumped on the sand. Water poured from the steps of the Concerto Inn as the rainwater carved a completely new river channel for itself through the small hotel's grounds and via the beach outside to the angry grey sea. A large fallen tree was propped up by a split and partially crushed corrugated iron fence. Our neighbour, Ros, told me it was the worse she had seen in 40 years in Hong Kong. Another neighbour, Annie had been so scared she crawled into a corner of her flat with her dogs- kept away from the windows and hid on the floor praying for it to end. She seemed very shaken.

A typhoon like Vicente is a powerful, frightening and dangerous phenomena though there is also something magnificent and exciting about nature brushing aside mankind with all of our modern sophisticated technology leaving us to quake helplessly in its path. For that reason, I think its 10 out of 10 for naughty Vicente.