Storm of anger: Travel chaos as millions struggle back to work through super typhoon's debris

Top News | Jane Cheung 18 Sep 2018

Transport chaos sparked anger and claims of "modern slavery" as the four-million workforce struggled to reach their jobs yesterday after Super Typhoon Mangkhut's pummeled Hong Kong.

The government came under fire for not suspending the return to work for a day. The devastating storm damaged public transport. Many roads were blocked and railway services stuttered.

The East Rail line between Hung Hom and Lo Wu or Lok Ma Chau was suspended until 6pm, when people were scrambling for transport to get home after work.

Bus services were largely suspended. The section of East Rail between Tai Po Market and Sheung Shui was halted. Parts of the light rail were also suspended.

Fallen trees and other obstructions closed many roads.

But people still had to go to work as Chief Executive Carrie Lam Chen Yuet-ngor had only urged employers and employees to be "understanding" toward each other instead of asking companies to suspend work.

The government on Sunday announced suspension of schools but did not extend it to workplaces. The school suspension will continue today.

The Observatory lowered the typhoon warning signal from No 8 to No 3 at 5.20am yesterday, and pushed it down to No 1 at 2.40pm. The signal was canceled at 7.10pm - a day after Mangkhut triggered the highest signal No 10 for 10 hours on Sunday.

After hitting the city, Mangkhut swept across southern China and killed at least four people in Guangdong province, state media reported.

Guangdong and Hainan moved 2.5 million people to safety.

Shenzhen on Sunday announced the suspension of work, school, businesses and the stock market yesterday.

Macau suspended school and civil servants in non-emergency departments were not required to work yesterday.

Lam said the government had done sufficient and effective preparatory work to cope with the typhoon.

Asked why the government did not announce a suspension of work, she said the approach of encouraging a mutual understanding between employers and employees suited the city better.

She said the government had issued internal notices calling for discretion if officers cannot get to work due to the blocked traffic.

But many civil servants said they hadn't heard of the arrangements until after they left home and the Civil Service Bureau issued the internal e-mail to division heads only at 3pm yesterday.

People called the situation "modern slavery" and a "man-made disaster."

Those in Northern District were cut off from the rest of the city, with anxious workers gathered at Sheung Shui and Fan Ling railway stations to wait for the resumption of services.

Even though the MTR arranged shuttle bus services to pick up people from Sheung Shui to Kowloon Tong, it subsequently called off the service because of blocked roads.

One worker waited there from 5am, just to prove to her boss that she was not slacking.

"I have to wait here and let my boss know I've tried to come to work but can't show up because of the traffic," she said.

Officers at the station handed out documents to people stuck in the stations to prove there was a train suspension.

Another Sheung Shui resident, surnamed Yuen, bashed the government for not announcing work suspension.

"I don't know what the chief executive is doing - the roads are blocked and there's no train. I can't believe I still have to go to work," she said.

Taxis were few, and Uber and vans raised prices.

An Uber driver charged HK$1,488 for a trip from Sheung Shui to Central. It usually costs only HK$400 for the same ride by taxi.

Tens of thousands crammed into stations in Tai Wai, Kowloon Tong and Sha Tin where trains inched along.

One of the rails in Tai Wai station was blocked, forcing station staff to run trains in both directions on a single rail.

People spent 1 1/2 hours getting to the platform but still failed to get on trains, as most of them were already full before arriving.

Traffic at the border point was also chaotic, with cross-border buses suspended and vans raising prices.

A citizen who lives in Shenzhen took nine hours crossing the border to get to work in the SAR.

Political parties from both pro-establishment and pan-democratic camps united in criticizing the government for having its head in the clouds for insisting that people resume work a day after Mangkhut.

Executive Council member Ronny Tong Ka-wah defended the government, saying it was in no position to order the suspension of work in a capitalist and free society.

jane.cheung@singtaonewscorp.com

More reports: Pages 3&4; Editorial: Page 6

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