Hateful Hato, The Typhoon That Obliterated Macau: Part 1
“Honestly you can just go outside and take a walk. It’s not that bad, it’ll just be either windy, rainy or a bit of both.” This was me telling my new cast what their first typhoon, named Hato, will be like as I’m showing them a video of three guys that I used to work with walking around Taipa in bikinis looking for margaritas during a previous T8 tropical cyclone warning.
I’ve experienced three big typhoons when I lived in Macau previously and they’ve all been a bit of an anti climax but nevertheless pretty funny and an excuse to day-drink and watch movies when you should have been at work.
The Build Up
We’re all sat at breakfast in The Holiday Inn, the current signal is at T3, it’s 9:00am. We are the new cast of Destiny and we rocked up just a week and a half ago to begin our new lives in Macau. Having lived here before, and as Dance Captain, it’s become pretty normal to be the “official” Macau adviser on a lot of things. So here I am, telling stories, being generally nonchalant about it all as we get a WhatsApp message from our show director; ‘Typhoon Signal 8 has been issued. Please stay at home and be on standby for updates. Have a safe typhoon :)’. (Notice the smiley face – she’s also seen it all before).
It’s 9:26am. In our neighbouring city of Hong Kong, they’ve been at signal T10 since the early hours. Hong Kong is just 60 miles away.
“So basically, T1 is just a bit soggy, T3 is ‘urgh’ and the ferries get a bit rough, T8 is when work gets cancelled and the bridges and all public transport stops and the T10 is like, watch out, it’s about to be a major emergency. But I’ve never been in one of those,” as I explained the oddly numbered Typhoon signalling as some of the cast plan an escape to the MGM gym (a 10 min walk away) and others are wondering if banks will be closed. “Actually, let’s go for a walk, it’ll be funny and then we can get some supplies for later,” I shared my plan as I get up to leave.
We receive another WhatsApp message; “Signal 8 will be replaced by Signal 9 soon. Please stay indoors and stay safe. This is wild one!” I look sceptically at my cast, shrug, and go to dress for a potentially windy walk.
It’s 9:51. I’m more annoyed that I didn’t know T9 was a thing.
The hotel lobby is full of people, it’s loud and there is an edgy presence. I overhear that some of the windows on the upper floors have smashed through and also the casino is going to close…which seems to be more of an issue as I see the disgruntled guests. Myself and two mates step outside…and we immediately change our plans.
There’s a horrible noise coming from a piece of sheet metal scraping down the street. It’s about a meter squared and at the speed it’s travelling, it could easily rip through your muscle. There’s a great smash from somewhere I can’t see but glass suddenly explodes around a corner. I use my phone to peer around. It’s a window which fell from somewhere in the jungle of high rises surrounding us. We’re safely stood under the overhang of the hotel but we venture forward a little to see further down the street.
“Holy f**k” were the words which sprung to my mouth. It became very clear that our little hotel was shielding us not just from the monster of a storm, thanks to its being nestled between much bigger buildings, but also from the reality of what’s going on.
I can see to where the main road traverses ours, about 50m away, where a torrent of sideways rain is hammering down a huge neon sign which is dangling from its wires. Clinging on to that is an enormous shred of green tarp, maybe 20 meters long, violently thrashing in what I later discover are 220 km per hour winds. It’s origin comes from a new construction nearby, around 30 stories high, which yesterday was covered by the green tarp and is now shredded, resembling somewhat of an abandoned under water building, covered in sheathes of algae. We’re in awe, but at this point have no idea how bad this really is. We go back inside.
T10 has not yet been raised. Safely back inside, I head to the gym to pass the time. I jump on the treadmill and notice the window is bouncing and pushing in.
On the gym TV there are some young presenters mundanely explaining the science of a typhoon. “Signal 10 has been raised. Remember that when the centre reaches Macau, winds will drop but it’s just as the centre passes. Stay Safe,” the presenter said and that’s when the treadmill stopped.
The lights and TV went out and the elevators instantly halted…with a couple of the cast members inside. I take a look out the window to see if the whole block is out. It is, and I can see why. The street is now flooded, about a foot deep in places. With a couple of other artists who are in the gym, we stretch and look online for some news. It’s becoming clear that various parts of Macau are falling apart. Videos of cranes spinning and some even falling from buildings appear. Lucky people are filming the sheet rain from the windows, unlucky ones are posting updates that they’re sat in their stairwells because their windows have blown out. High rises are swaying, roofs are blowing off. People are scared. It’s not going well outside, and yet, here in the safety of the Holiday Inn, we’re oblivious.
“Hey guys, I just heard that CTM (our local power provided) is currently on backup power and service may cut out in the next few hours. There may also be a water interruption, so perhaps fill up some water bottles just in case,” I instructed. A couple of us decide to venture out for supplies. There seems to be a lull in the wind and it’s now just the issue of flooding and power outage. 7-11 is open, and it’s rammed with people. Everyone is raiding the instant noodles, the ready meals and the snacks. We are still a little unfazed about the entire situation and are stocking up on wine, sweets and water as a last resort. That became ironic later.
After much Instagramming and a precarious walk in the blacked out stair well, we commence our typhoon party and wait till Hato falls back to a T3.
THE ‘WHAT THE HELL’ MOMENT
This is the part when I realised that not only had I given my cast a false sense of reality, but also I was completely wrong.
Macau was ruined and not just the small, old buildings but the huge mega casinos too. Glass was everywhere, the trees were stripped naked of leaves and many had been ripped from the ground.
Looking up, you could see holes where windows used to be and the ground was just covered in debris, blocking most roads. The underpasses were now aquariums as were underground car parks. Later I would hear that actually, some people had drowned after getting trapped down there while attempting to get out of their cars. An abandoned bus with smashed windows and the key left in the ignition made me feel I was in a post apocalyptic landscape and reminded me of I Am Legend, just with way more stunned Macanese people.
The atmosphere was very confusing. A mix of fear, wonder, surprise, misunderstanding, and a little excitement at least from the four of us. Amidst all of this, none of use really knew how to act. None of us had experienced anything like it, and on some level it was like we were adventurers or in a video game, and all of this would be gone soon. I mean, Macau is an extremely lucrative country, surely with all the money and business here, it would be sorted soon right?
We return to the hotel, the lights are back on and the casino is slowly letting guests back in…the gambling never stops, for anything. It’s about 5pm. I take a bath, the water is hot and I enjoy doing my hair and having a moment to myself. I am completely unaware that over in the depths of Macau, there are floods filling the ground floors of businesses, banks, homes, hospitals.
Six people have died and over 150 are injured. Over in Taipa where a lot of my friends live, they don’t have water, and their power is just beginning to come on. People are rushing into supermarkets to get all the supplies for what will become the worst natural disaster since the 1960s. I’m probably about as shallow as the water I’m bathing in.
Around 8pm, I go in search of dinner with a couple of the cast. My hair looks awesome btw.
The first thing that’s striking is that it’s very dark. Although a lot of the buildings have lights inside, there are no street lamps on and the casinos are not flashing their gaudy facades. Most of the neon signs above restaurants have fallen and we’re now walking over them. Very few places are open and those that are, don’t have a great deal to offer.
This is the first night of what will become a bizarre mix of anger, incredible community spirit and absolute confusion.