Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Typhoons Are Not for Sissies

Typhoon Mujigae

Every year on October 1 China takes a week to celebrate the founding of the People's Republic.  I had the week off from work and had a pretty good itinerary of festivities lined up with trips to beaches and islands as well as get togethers with friends.  Of course, these events were weather dependent, and the weather looked like it might try and delay a couple of beach forays.  There was a tropical storm brewing the other side of the Philippines, and it was headed our way.
We've been through numerous tropical weather events here.  There have been enough that they seem pretty old hat.  You lay in some food and recreational beverages, fill some extra water jugs, and make sure the flashlights work.  This storm was categorized as a tropical storm, and would fluctuate between that and a category 1 typhoon as it made its way here.  It looked pretty mundane, the forecast called for a few inches of rain and wind gusts up to 80 mph.  Nothing special, a day spent indoors watching movies, a day for cleanup, then off to the beaches!
Typhoon Mujigae (the name means "Sneaky Asshole") arrived Sunday morning.  Our new flat is on the third floor of an eight story walk up nestled snugly among other buildings and is pretty sheltered, so we didn't have a great view as to what was going on, although we could see that this storm was exceeding expectations.  Trees were bending over nicely and there was a lovely chorus of e-bike and car alarms which always go off in high winds.  A friend of ours, who has a much nicer view from an eighth floor apartment was sending us videos of the mayhem, with lots of debris flying around.
At 12:30 the power went down.  It was dark.  The two lovely flowering trees in our courtyard were looking sad.  The big one was down and the smaller one had pretty much disintegrated.  There was a period of calm as the eye of the storm passed over.  Our friend went out and took some photos which he sent to us.  I urged him not to stay out too long.  He got back home in time to watch one of his windows get blown in.
We got out a thousand piece jigsaw puzzle, since it didn't look like we'd be watching any movies that day.  It turned out we weren't going to be watching any movies for several days.

At the time, we didn't realize just how bad it really was.  We were in contact with friends via phone, and knew that everyone had no power or water.
The next morning I went out to view the damage and to get some easy to cook food.  We live near a pedestrian street which, for the holiday, had dozens of vendors in tents selling BBQ, various foods, cheapo toys and other gimcrack.  Or at least they were up until the typhoon struck.

 The day before the typhoon and all is fine.
Mmmm, not so fine... 

 Enterprising lady selling chestnuts amid the disaster.

 The regular cleaning crew awaiting instruction.  It was going to be a long week.

 Our street.

"It ties the room together."

A friend let us know, the day after, that the authorities said we might not have water or power for four days.  It was time to go into urban tropical camping mode.  I was a little concerned.  How would people here react to this?  Were they as prepared as we were?  Did they have enough water?  Would there be riots?
We fortunately had gas, so cooking was not a problem.  We also had enough water, as long as we kept squatty potty flushing only for #2 events.  We were mostly out of touch with friends, since the phone service was completely overloaded. We managed a few text messages now and then.  I kept my phone mostly off to preserve the battery.  I read a real book, reserving Kindle for nights.
It was sticky and steamy.  Fortunately our flat has good ventilation, so what little breeze we had, managed to make it through.
The worst times were after dark.  Our bedrooms face a high rise apartment building.  They ran generators to keep the elevators working.  The lobby was lit, and this attracted people.  Chinese people in groups have only one volume for normal conversation, a kind of low volume shouting.  It doesn't matter what time it is, or where they are.  1 am is not too late for some group confab when you are recovering from a natural disaster. Someone eventually figured out that if they turned the generators off, that the crowd would disperse, and they did.   However, since it also gets extra muggy at night here, sleep was less than satisfying.
The third evening after the storm, the power came on.  Oh, joy!  I plugged in all electronics, turned on the air conditioning, and saw that the internet was working. I got a couple of emails off and read about the storm.  There were tornadoes, and utility crews from all over the province were working to get power and water restored.  Then the power went off.
It came on again the next morning.  And then went off.  It came on again in the afternoon.  And went off.  It came on in the evening, and we turned the AC on in our bedrooms set at really cold temperatures so that when it went off again we could keep the windows closed so we didn't have to listen to the convershouting next door.  It did go off, but we could at least sleep with windows closed.
The power finally came on for good the next day, so we were able to have a comfy temperature inside, but still no water.  Our friends in various locations in the city were having mixed luck as well.  You could take a bucket to a nearby building, which did have water, if you needed to.  During one morning deluge, I managed to fill a large bucket with water from a downspout from the roof.  It's always nice to have an extra flush or two.  The loo was getting a pretty nice pissy smell, although with the power restored we could at least keep the exhaust fan on.
On Wednesday a friend called to joyfully declare that he had water.  We should be getting ours soon.  I saw that the building next door did too, as indicated by the large amounts of laundry hanging from the windows.
Thursday came around and still no water.  We were greasy, sticky and stinky. Our friend offered us his shower, so in the midday heat, we strolled over to his place, climbed stairs to the eighth floor and went in only to find that the power and water were off.  
However, there was water on in the apartment that we use as a classroom, so we managed a shower a shave in the crappy shower there.  That was good, since I had a class that evening, and I did not want to subject the tykes to my disgusting, barbaric self.
On Friday we finally got water.  For some reason there are two sources of water in our place.  The laundry room had no water.  We do have a top loading machine, so we hauled water back there to do some laundry, and both took showers.  I began to get ready for the epic cleaning job ahead of me.  Then we lost water.  It came back on a few hours later, and I filled some big jugs again, just in case.  We did the epic cleaning and finished just in time for the water to go off again.
The water eventually came back on for good, as well as the laundry room water the next day.  After wallowing in our own filth for a week, life is more or less back to normal.
This storm took everyone by surprise with its severity.  It was the worst typhoon to hit the area since 1996.  The damage to crops, and infrastructure is massive.  There were some injuries and deaths, mostly to people who should have been inside.  But people here are resilient. Most of the trees around here have been trimmed and propped back up.  They always make a pretty good comeback.  Trash and debris have been removed.  Businesses are open and windows are being replaced.  It's a good time to be in the window business.
Bottled drinking water was available immediately, and to the small local store owners' credit, there was no price gouging that I observed.
By next typhoon season I want to add a few things to my survival kit including an LED lantern and another jigsaw puzzle.  Maybe a couple of more big buckets.
I had enough vodka, though!
A few parting shots from the news:

 Fishing boats

 The new sports stadium across the bay.