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Surviving the “Biggest Storm in the World!” (This Year, So Far)

Posted by on September 16, 2016

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!

Taiwan and Xiamen locations

The red circle is Xiamen. You can see Taiwan is across from us and gives us good cover. The purple dots are the path of the typhoon. It came directly to us.

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 stuck in our new building, decided to have a party.

Snacks were prepared, tequila was drunk.

Snacks were prepared, tequila was drunk.

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.

With no power, anything was used as a light source including a lightsaber.

With no power, anything was used as a light source including a lightsaber.

It was scary to live through but with friends it was nicer.

It was scary at times but with friends it was nicer.

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.

Typhoon meranti

Typhoon meranti

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…

 

This is the busiest street in the center of campus. Now it's impassible.

This is the busiest street in the center of campus. Now it’s impassible.

The military came to help Xiamen clean up the roads so emergency vehicles could get through.

The military came to help Xiamen clean up the roads so emergency vehicles could get through.

Because of the holiday, sunday is supposed to be a workday (friday's classes). No word yet if they are cancelled but I'm keeping my fingers and toes crossed it will be!

Because of the holiday, Sunday is supposed to be a workday (Friday’s classes). No word yet if they are cancelled but I’m keeping my fingers and toes crossed! Not that I want all the classrooms to be this messed up, but hopefully enough are that classes can’t be held.

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 picture just makes me so sad! My beautiful courts I play on all the time!!!

This picture just makes me so sad! My beautiful courts I play on all the time!!!

The courts are in a warehouse style building and there are garage doors along the side. Two of them blew open, exposing the courts to the rain and wind (which then ripped up a lot of the nice wooden floor).

The courts are in a warehouse style building and there are garage doors along the side. Two of them ripped open, exposing the courts to the rain and wind (which then ripped up a lot of the nice wooden floor).

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!”

Typhoon xiamen

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3 Responses to Surviving the “Biggest Storm in the World!” (This Year, So Far)

  1. Autumn

    When I was in Miami for hurricanes or Los Angeles for earthquakes, I was amazed at how well the buildings survived the elements. I guess I’d be kind of nervous in China, without strict building codes or enforcement of those codes.

    Are there hurricane shutters?

  2. Becky

    Legally Xiamen’s building code includes a typhoon clause, or whatever it is called (things must be built to withstand typoon level winds) because the threat is so common. But you know China. The construction industry is one of the most corrupt and you never know how strong a building really will be here.

    And no hurricane shutters here. Just giant plate glass windows waiting to be smashed to bit, haha.

  3. pf

    I doubt any shutters could survive a storm with 230 mph winds. Hurricane Katrina’s max wind speed was about 170 mph and look at the damage it did to New Orleans. Maybe New Orleans have worse building codes than Xiamen then?

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