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Farewell To Tai O

Colourful soda cans shaped into lanterns that dangle from long pieces of wires is a type of traditional wind chime at the fishing village of Tai O. But when you walk around the many huts on stilts there these days, some of the chimes are rusted and broken because the owners have left for good.

They were evacuated because flooding destroyed their homes.

The unique pieces, created by a Tai O villager, originated in Japan.

Tai O, is one of Hong Kong’s oldest fishing villages. It is in a low-lying area on the western coast of Lantau Island. This “Venice of Hong Kong” is threatened by inundation because of climate change. 

Tai O is a fishing town and a famous tourist attraction in Hong Kong.

Residents recalled their survival experience from two of the most devastating typhoons in Tai O: Typhoon Hato in 2017 and Typhoon Mangkhut in 2018. 

In August 2017, Super Typhoon Hato smashed into Hong Kong with an estimated sustained wind speed of 185 kilometres per hour. The Hong Kong Observatory issued Hurricane Signal No.10, the strongest tropical storm warning signal possible here. It was the first No.10 in five years.

Hato brought severe flooding and destruction in multiple coastal regions, including Tai O, Cheung Chau, Heng Fa Chuen, and Lei Yue Mun. In Tai O, the damage was the worst in nine years, according to the Observatory. When the government sounded the flood alert system, many residents there had to evacuate.

The rising water approached faster than residents expected. Kenny Wong, a villager in Tai O, said they didn’t have time to prepare because the official forecast underestimated the typhoon’s impact.

“The flood was up to my knees at home. Many of my furniture and electrical appliances were damaged during the storm surge,” Wong said. 

Kenny Wong has been living in Tai O for more than ten years.

He said Typhoon Mangkhut was even worse than Hato. 

When Super Typhoon Mangkhut hit Hong Kong in September 2018, it brought the most severe wind strength recorded in three decades and yet another round of destruction to Tai O.

“Luckily, the government estimated accurately this time. We could prepare for the flooding two days before it approached,” Wong said. 

To limit the damage when the seawater washed into their home, Wong and his family moved their furniture to the second floor of their stilt house. They lifted items such as the refrigerator and washing machine.

Lifting furniture has become a routine for Tai O residents whenever typhoons and flooding are in the forecast.

Wong said it was fortunate he wasn’t injured, but he recalled how flying pieces of wood and iron chips caused by the storm hurt some neighbours. 

Billy Leung, is another villager in Tai O. The floor of his house was eroded by seawater. “I have spent nearly twenty thousand dollars to renovate my home for half a month,” he said. 

Leung said the water level in his house reached half a metre.

When the typhoon is over, residents still need to deal with the aftermath, namely cleaning the mud out of their houses and replacing floor boards.

Wooden floor boards can last up to 30 years. Belian, a type of hard wood used to build stilt houses, provides good support. But flooding speeds up the erosion, replacing them regularly is costly.

Yet, most in Tai O don’t want to leave their homes.

“I will stay here no matter how climate change affects my hometown,” Wong said. 

There are ongoing constructions in Tai O to rebuild houses damaged by the two typhoons.

The annual mean temperature in Hong Kong has gradually increased at an average rate of 0.28℃ per decade between 1993 and 2022, according to the Observatory. That is much faster compared with 0.14 degree celsius per decade between 1885 and 2022. Annual rainfall is also rising, with an average rate of 2.2 milimetres per year from 1884 to 2022.  

Sajjad Muhammad, a research assistant professor from the Department of Geography at Hong Kong Baptist University, explained that intense rainfall increases the chances of rivers to overflow. In the long term, it causes the sea level to rise and coastal region such as Tai O are the bear the brunt.  

Muhammad has been analysing the impact of climate change on Tai O by the year using the Coastal Risk Screening Tool. It monitors the temperature and water level. The pink area on the map shows locations that are prone to flooding. 

The first if sea level continues to rise at the current rate, some areas in Tai O will be underwater by 2050.
The area that will be underwater when the sea level rises 5 metres.

“There are a few ways to adapt and mitigate the impacts of climate change, including having accurate and reliable climate information, boosting communities awareness and solutions like planting,” Muhammad said. 

“Using flood as an example, by understanding and predicting what kinds of floods are expected to occur under different climate change scenarios could help the government realise possible risks and propose related policies based on those hazards,” he said. 

He said the government should also raise the awareness of those living in regions prone to flooding and inform them on the possible dangers. They can also plan for the relocation of affected residents. 

Other ways to save coastal communities may include building sea walls and planting green cover or mangroves which can reduce the chances of rivers from overflowing.

Muhammad and his students are developing some reliable methodologies and social sensing data to help people overcome the impact of climate change. “All of these up-to-date technologies can help different stakeholders,” he said. 


《The Young Reporter》

The Young Reporter (TYR) started as a newspaper in 1969. Today, it is published across multiple media platforms and updated constantly to bring the latest news and analyses to its readers.


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