Typhoons are just a part of life here in southern China, but I have never been worried about them. That’s because after two years and probably a dozen typhoons, nothing has ever happened. Sure, the media freaks out, trains and planes are cancelled, boats are called back to port, and some people stock up on food, but most residents are too smart and storm weary like me to be very concerned.
It’s because of Taiwan. Directly across from us, dangling out in the ocean all by itself, every typhoon seems to smash itself into Taiwan which helps to drain the power, or diverts its course, leaving Xiamen unaffected.
I remember once last year a city just an hour and a half away north by train got whooped. We didn’t even have rain. Thanks Taiwan!
But this year super typhoon Meranti wasn’t just a dangerous storm, it was a tricky one. It snuck south of Taiwan and continued at full strength hitting us directly in Xiamen.
It caught a well prepared city. Everyone had heeded the warnings and stocked up on food and water. As it hit at 3am, everyone had plenty of time to go home or take trains earlier in the day. My friends and I, all snug and safe in our new building, decided to have a party and face the storm together.
The winds were higher than normal all day and when the storm arrived we didn’t need the weather reports telling us it had. We knew. With winds of up to 230 mph (370 kph) even the deepest sleeper couldn’t miss it. Windows were rattling almost off their frames (many blew out), buildings were swaying and rain was going vertical.
My friends and I didn’t dare go outside, but we did stand out on a covered balcony for awhile. Besides being a deep balcony, and covered on all sides (except one) by a thick, heavy wall, we got pelted by rain and was afraid the items we we heard cracking around us would fly and hit into us. While we still had power we could see the building across from us, and we could see the roof tiles flying off into the night. We threw a frisbee out into the storm but it just flew up instead of out, and we lost track of it. When we lost power, we all ran inside to safety.
Not that we felt very safe. With the winds so strong we couldn’t even open doors into the hallway because the pressure was too much and the windows were rattling so much we were afraid they would fly into us, cutting us to shards. In fact, someone even suggested we go downstairs and wait in the lobby in case the building was collapsing so we could get out earlier. You might think that sounds laughably paranoid, but actually my friends, in other parts of the city were doing the exact same thing! Buildings in China are not known for their quality work, and everyone’s fears about poor construction definitely came out that night!
To keep us calm, and because we had nothing else to do, my friend played guitar and we kinda sang along and chatted. The eye of the storm passed us by and we met up with other foreign teachers and walked around the hallways before the eye passed and it was back to howling winds and rattling windows.
By 5am the worst of it had passed, and exhausted, I went to sleep. When I woke up at 9am we miraculously had power, something almost no one else in my neighborhood was lucky enough to have. We didn’t have water for another 24 hours. (As I’m writing this, 2 days after the storm, my neighborhood still is mostly without power, so I’m not sure why we got so lucky.)
The next day my friends and I got out in the morning to explore. The typhoon hit the night before a 3-day holiday (mid-autumn festival) so there was already no class or no work. Students who were supposed to go home the day before had their flights and trains cancelled so pretty much everyone was still on campus so it didn’t feel lonely.
The wreckage was shocking but it seemed like there was no major structural damage. No buildings fell down as was rumored during the storm and no major catastrophe befell the city. No deaths were reported. Just a lot of broken glass, smashed cars, damaged buildings signs and saddest of all, fallen trees.
Xiamen is a beautiful city, lush with trees and greenery everywhere you go. But not anymore. Now it is a pile of broken trees and branches and when they are cleared I think the place is going to look very different. On campus several of the 100-year-old trees crashed down. Such a shame…
But really we were lucky. The last time we had a storm this bad was either 16 or 60 years ago (I’ve seen varying reports and I’m too lazy to do the research myself). The worst damage that affects me personally is my coach and his gym.
This storm couldn’t come at a better/worse time. Like I said it was the night before a three-day holiday, Mid-autumn festival so we had the time off and the storm didn’t disturb things like working schedules or classes and people were off the road and not going anywhere which accounts for the lack of deaths I think.
But on the other hand, a lot of people go away for this national holiday and people like medical and emergency workers as well as staff in schools left and now aren’t around to help clean up or solve the myriad of problems that have arisen. They will have problems getting back too. So I think cleanup will be slower than if it happened during a normal week.
Anyway, it’s not something I’m eager to repeat, but we survived “the biggest storm of 2016!”