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Disaster in Hong Kong: How to handle it

Is Hong Kong prepared for disaster? What should we be prepared for, and how can we make sure that we are ready if a disaster strikes? Pacific Prime looks answers these questions and more by looking at the biggest disasters that could effect the city.

Posted on May 06, 2015 by Travis Jones

The recent earthquakes in Nepal have taken a terrible toll on the country. Those affected have seen portions of the land that they have relied on and loved their whole lives transformed into rubble. Of course, we all wish for nothing but the best for the people of Nepal as they recover and rebuild. However, as we see the destruction and its effects on an entire country’s population, we can’t help but look at ourselves and reflect on how Hong Kong would be able to handle the same situation should a similar disaster ever strike our city. Is Hong Kong prepared for disaster? What should we be prepared for, and how can we make sure that we are ready if a disaster strikes?

Well, due to its location, Hong Kong is generally not at risk of a major local tremor or earthquake due to the fact that it is not located near any major fault lines, but there are a host of other disasters that should be of concern for the city. According to an article in 2014 by The Guardian, Hong Kong and the rest of the Pearl River Delta ranked 3rd on a list of the 10 riskiest cities in the world. The article stated that the region was the #1 metropolitan area for storm surge, and the 3rd riskiest for cyclonic wind damage. This article will look at the possible dangers present in Hong Kong, and let you know what you can do to make sure that you are as protected as possible.

 

Typhoons

For the average Hong Konger, typhoons are the first entity that will come to mind when you mention the words ‘natural disaster’. From July to October each year we can expect to experience a number of tropical storms to roar in from the Pacific, but damage from them is usually minimal, and people are generally not fearful of them. This was not always the case, however. In 1906 one of the worst typhoons in Hong Kong’s history hit the city with winds over 240 km/h and killed over 15,000 people (~5% of the population at the time). 11,000 people lost their lives decades later during a typhoon in 1937. More recently, in 1962 Hong Kong hoisted the No. 10 warning signal as Typhoon Wanda resulted in the deaths of 183 people; and in 1971 Typhoon Rose killed 110. Although still deadly, it can be seen that Hong Kong has adapted and used modern technology over the years to minimize the impact of large storms on the city.

More recently, Typhoon Vincente paid Hong Kong a visit in 2012, which resulted in a No. 10 warning and 140 reported injuries, although, thankfully, no deaths. In 2013, Typhoon Utor resulted in devastation in the Philippines, but had slowed down enough by the time it hit Hong Kong to not do much damage. In the same year the city dodged a bullet when Typhoon Usagi shifted course and landed in Guangdong, where it resulted in heavy flooding and 35 deaths. Hong Kong escaped with only 17 injuries. Clearly, even though storms aren’t causing the havoc they used to, people must still be vigilant to take precautions when typhoons make landfall to ensure that they don’t become part of the injury or death statistics.

To make sure you’re family is prepared for a typhoon tie down loose objects that are outside of your home. Most importantly, stay away from coastal areas, as surging waters are capable of violently drawing people into the sea. In the event of a T8 or higher storm, stay indoors and away from exposed windows, as winds in excess of 180 km/h will likely be blowing all sorts of objects around outside. If you have the opportunity, it may be wise to apply tape to the windows to reinforce them and add extra protection should they shatter. Should you find yourself without any sturdy place to go, Hong Kong has 13 typhoon shelters available to the public. Finally, stay tuned to the local news to remain updated on storm developments.

 

Floods

Similar to typhoon season, Hong Kong’s rainiest days are between April and September each year. In 1992 there was a historic rainfall that saw the Hong Kong Observatory record precipitation of 109.9mm in a single hour. This spawned the modern rainstorm warning signals that we see today, which applies colours to rainstorms depending on the amount of rainfall per hour. In ascending order these colors are green, amber, red and black. As recently as 2014, Hong Kong experienced so called ‘black rain’ that drenched the territory with more than 70mm of precipitation per hour. Schools, businesses and transportation shut down due to the high risk of flooding when this occurs.

Many people will recall the images and video of waterfalls of rainwater pouring through the shattered windows at Festival Walk in Kowloon Tong, non-stop lightning strikes, landslide warnings, and even golf ball-sized hail resulting from the March 2014 storm. Many people driving on Hong Kong’s streets found themselves swallowed up by quickly rising waters that left their vehicles stranded and submerged. Despite substantial damage to the city, Hong Kong was fortunate to escape the storm with only a couple of injuries. Southern China, however, reported 17 deaths.

It should be noted that the northern New Territories and its low-lying plains are especially susceptible to flooding, so people living in that area should take heed of the Special Announcement on Flooding that the Hong Kong Observatory issues for this area. Furthermore, about 15% of Hong Kong’s total land area is below 5m above sea level, and land reclamation along Hong Kong’s harbor has created a ‘trough effect’ in those spots. Thus, storm surges along the coast can be particularly dangerous when combined with water rushing downhill towards the harbor on Hong Kong Island.

Preparedness is important if you have reason to believe that flood waters will present a danger to you. Create an emergency kit that includes food (with can opener for canned foods), water, first aid, any necessary medications, flashlights (with extra batteries), a fire extinguisher, water proof matches, and a signal whistle. Be aware of the nearest high ground, and try to get to it if you have time to avoid flood waters. Elevate electrical panels and water heaters in your home if there is a risk of flooding there. Install ‘check valves’ in order to prevent the drains in your home from being stopped up with flood water and debris. Finally, if necessary, construct barriers to prevent flood water from entering your home, and use waterproof sealant in spots where leakage can occur.

 

Disease

Hong Kong is certainly no stranger to outbreaks of communicable diseases. Most people living today in the city will remember the SARS outbreak of the early 2000s. From November 2002 to July 2003, there were 1,755 cases of the disease in Hong Kong which resulted in at least 299 deaths (a mortality rate of 17%). This highly contagious disease quickly came to the city from its origins in Southern China, and easily spread among the dense population.

In 2009 Hong Kong was subjected to another contagious disease in the form of the H1N1 virus, commonly known as swine flu. While not as fatal as SARS in Hong Kong (only 80 deaths reported locally), the disease had over 33,000 confirmed cases and was extremely disruptive to the city, as travelers stayed away out of fear, schools were shut down, and areas were quarantined to ensure there was not a severe outbreak of H1N1 in Hong Kong.

As we saw in both cases, disease can spread quickly in Hong Kong, perhaps even before the government realizes the danger and has a chance to respond. For this reason, it’s up to every person in the city to take precautions in order to prevent the spread of disease. Many common sense steps can be taken, such as washing hands thoroughly and often, preparing and handling food safely, cleaning and disinfecting used surfaces regularly, covering our mouths when we sneeze or cough, and avoiding touching wild animals, each other and each other’s belongings. Beyond this, it is important that the people who are most at risk in our society, such as small children and the elderly, get vaccinations regularly to keep their immune system strong against diseases like influenza. Finally, though some people like to try to tough it out when they get sick, it is important to see a doctor as soon as possible if you believe you may have a contagious disease. Just make sure you wear a surgical mask on the way so as not to infect those around you.

 

Radiation

We are all aware of the Fukushima nuclear plant catastrophe following an earthquake off the coast of Japan that caused a large tsunami in 2011. You may have also heard about fears about the levels of radiation in Japan following this tragedy. But would you believe that background radiation levels are higher in Hong Kong than in Tokyo? You should, because it’s true. The granite commonly used in Hong Kong construction has trace amounts of uranium in it which releases low levels radiation 3 to 4 times higher than Japan’s largest city. Fortunately, the Hong Kong Observatory assures us that this radiation is not harmful to people. However, are there other potential sources of radiation that we should be worried about? As it turns out, there is.

Daya Bay nuclear power plant, which was constructed in 1994, resides in Shenzen just 50 kilometers north of Hong Kong Island, and even closer to the New Territories. If there was a catastrophe there that resulted in a nuclear reactor leak, it could pose a serious danger to the people of Hong Kong. While people would only be likely to be in danger of exposure to direct radiation within a 10-mile radius around the plant, those within a 50-mile radius are in danger of having water supplies, and subsequently food crops and livestock, exposed to radioactive materials.

Initial symptoms of radiation sickness include nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, headache and fever, which will all strike within 24 hours of moderate to severe exposure. Since the types of events that can produce radiation sickness are generally severe and widespread events, it is unlikely that you will not be me aware of such an event shortly after it happens, thus, it is unlikely you will mistake these seemingly standard symptoms with those of a more common disease. In the event that there was legitimate concern of dangerous radiation in Hong Kong, the very best option would be to evacuate the area immediately. However, short of that, there are other precautions you can take to reduce your risk of acute radiation sickness.

Taking potassium iodide can provide protection for your thyroid from radiation for a time, which can prevent eventual thyroid cancer from developing. Prussian blue dye can bind to radioactive elements in the body and allow it to expel the elements with bodily waste. It will speed up the process of eliminating radioactive particles and reduce absorption. Other, metal-based radioactive particles can be expelled in a similar way with diethylenetriamine pentaacetic acid (DTPA). Finally, once you are clear of a radioactive area, it is imperative to go through a thorough decontamination process to remove all radioactive particles on the outside of your body. Remove all contaminated clothing immediately and remove particles from skin with a brisk scrubbing with soap and water.

If you are being advised to stay where you are, and not evacuate while in a possibly irradiated zone, seek shelter, close and lock all windows and doors or other direct passages outside, turn off any device that would bring in air from outside such as air conditions or heating units, bring pets inside, move to the innermost room or basement, and stay tuned to local news outlets for updates. As with most emergency situations of this sort, it’s wise to have an emergency kit on hand that includes first-aid, sealed water and food, flashlights and batteries, extra clothes, cash, and any necessary medicines.

 

Insurance

Regardless of what potential disasters you may face, your personal health and wellbeing is at risk from all of them. That is why having a comprehensive international health insurance plan is so important. Obviously, the more serious the disaster that affects your area, the harder it will be to get medical attention, as the local healthcare system will likely be bombarded with patients. However, although service quality and personal attention from medical staff may suffer amid the chaos created by a catastrophe, when the dust has settled, bills will still need to be paid.

When times are most dire, the last thing you will want to worry about is finding a hospital that’s in your network, or worrying about how much treatment costs. That’s why having high quality medical insurance can be such a lifesaver. With international health insurance plans, like those available from Pacific Prime, no matter where you are in the world, at home or abroad, you can have your choice of medical facility. Additionally, if you do happen to be outside of your home country when disaster strikes, many plans provide emergency evacuation benefits that can get you to better medical facilities if the area you are in is not able to meet your healthcare needs.

While practically nothing is a sure thing when disasters occur, one thing you can count on is an international health insurance plan from Pacific Prime to provide you with the benefits you need. Our helpful agents are standing by to answer any and all questions that you may have about the specific benefits that you and your family might need. What’s more, with a minimum amount of information they can provide you with a free quotation that compares plans and prices from many of the world’s best insurers. Contact them today or visit www.PacificPrime.com for your free online quote.

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