Sunday, August 09, 2015

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Surviving typhoon Soudelor in Taiwan, 8. 8. 2015

8/09/2015 Taiwan Explorer
I came to Taiwan not long after Morakot devastated large parts of Taiwan in 2009. At that time it was considered the worst typhoon of the young century. It made landfall exactly on the same day as yesterday's Soudelor, namely on 8. 8., which coincidently happens to be Father's Day in Taiwan, it's usually a very festive and happy day. But in 2009 as well as in 2015 it was a sad and tragic day full of destruction. Believed to be even stronger than Morakot, Soudelor hit Taiwan head on and devastated Eastern, Central and Southern Taiwan, as well large parts of Northern Taiwan, where most of Taiwan's population is found (Greater Taipei). Today I want to share my experience how it felt to survive this extraordinarily severe typhoon in a residential area on the brinks of southern Taipei.

Large, larger, Soudelor

Photo from International Space Station, more here on their FB.

There are no typhoons where I come from, there are even not so many regular natural disasters, occasional autumn floods and blizzards, but that's about it. When I came to Taiwan, I knew that summer means typhoon season, and I was a little anxious when I experienced a typhoon making landfall for the first time, but it turned out that none of the ones after Morakot came anywhere close to its level, so I did not equal typhoons in Taiwan with something scary (even after I saw Hayan's devastation in the neighboring Philippines in 2013). It's one thing to see images of devastation, another one to experience it. After yesterday's Soudelor my perceptions of typhoons changed substantially.

I started to pay attention to Soudelor on Monday, August 3rd, when various US news outlets wrote about it, naming it the strongest typhoon of 2015, from WaPo:

After blasting the Pacific island of Saipan with wind gusts close to 100 mph, Super Typhoon Soudelor is taking aim at Taiwan and China, now the equivalent of a category 5 hurricane with wind speeds of 178 mph, and the strongest tropical cyclone yet in 2015.

This is when I decided to watch its path and development closely on this website, and begun to regularly update the latest status on my Facebook page, so that my followers can get prepared for it:

Meet #typhoon #Soudelor, perhaps the largest typhoon of 2015. This badboy is headed towards #Taiwan, expected to bring rainfall on Friday.Follow his path here:
Posted by Taiwan Explorer on Monday, August 3, 2015

I knew Soudelor will be pretty bad, but I still hoped it will weaken or change its path, which is usually the case. Sadly, it did not change that much, it was fairly predictable. By Thursday, August 6th, a lot of people hoped he will make landfall in early Friday, which will give us a day off from work and school, but only a few counties and communities in Eastern Taiwan were granted an early typhoon holiday. In Taipei (as well as most of Taiwan), school and class were officially cancelled for Friday at 6PM (which merely meant no overtime working). I left the office around that time and headed straight home. I wanted to buy bread, but no chance, everything was gone. At that time it started to drizzle and winds got stronger. I took the MRT to the other side of the city, which usually takes 1h. By the time I reached home, the winds already got much stronger, and I started to worry about my family who were still out there. I went to pick them up, and helped to bring them home safely. Once home, I decided to move some of my new furniture away from the window (which turned out to be a good idea), just in case something cracks or breaks, and water finds its way in. I live in a tall building at one of the upper floors. The chances of impact were not small, lots of stuff was flying around. I live close to a mountain, and the neighborhood is fairly green. The night from Friday to Saturday was really scary. The winds were unlike any I've seen before, my windows were hammered for hours, with rain splashing head on all the time. I really thought the glass will break and I will have a huge mess. I could not sleep until 4 AM, I was too nervous, I did not want to be asleep, if something happens.

Father's Day disaster

While the night was unlike anything I've experienced before, the next day was much worse. The typhoon hit Taiwan's mainland in the morning, and rain and winds howling around Taipei's surrounding mountains were just out of this world. It felt like water cannons shooting at my window for the most of the day, it was terrifying. It occurred in waves, about every 3-4 minutes there was a huge splash with a howling wind. Naturally water came in somehow, but luckily not a lot. I had a headache all day, the never-ending noise mixed with nervousness that the glass will shatter and my whole apartment will be full of water just took its toll on me. This is a video I made in the morning, at 9:47 AM:

And this was nothing compared to late afternoon, when the rain and the wind got even stronger, it felt like armageddon. I was constantly checking my window. Because it's made of aluminum, it was heavily bending and shaking, but luckily it did not break. In the eventing the rain was gone, and we just got wind, which completely blew our neighborhood dry, but it was still scary. The center of the typhoon was now slowly moving towards Kinmen and China, but it still didn't give up. It was already over 36 hours that it locked us inside and hammered at our windows, it was exhausting. In the late evening and towards midnight, the rain was completely gone, and the strong winds still kept coming once in a while, until they completely disappeared on Sunday morning, and the Soudelor was gone for good.

The aftermath of Soudelor

Soudelor left a trail of destruction behind him: Floods, mudslides, broken trees and houses, even casualties. Focus Taiwan reports:

As of 8 a.m. Sunday, the Central Emergency Operation Center's website showed six deaths, four missing and 379 injured.

Extreme rainfall plagued several parts of Taiwan, from the same post in Focus Taiwan:

The Central Weather Bureau said Taiping Mountain (太平山) in Yilan County had accumulated 1,253 millimeters of rainfall from Thursday night at midnight to Saturday at 5 p.m., the most of anywhere in Taiwan and the equivalent of a half-year of rainfall under normal conditions.

I've collected images that were posted on social media yesterday and today, that show the extent of the devastation. I can only hope that we'll have a break from another super typhoon, so that we can clean this up and move on with our lives.

Images on social media that show the destruction of this natural disaster

Posted by Taiwan Explorer on Saturday, August 8, 2015

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