RLC 10 – The Huskos Meet Meranti

For those not familiar with the climate that I come from – meteorologically speaking, Latvia is about as safe and stable a country as it gets. I believe we have had one earthquake in my lifetime, and, as far as I know, its extent was a momentary sway felt in our 9th floor apartment and a lot of children going, “Did you feel it?” the next day at school. Every now and then we get strong winds and occasionally heavy rainfall results in mild flooding, but nothing anyone could sincerely call a ‘natural disaster’. Consequently, it was with some amount of trepidation-tinged excitement that we moved to South-East Asia, a decidedly different place in that regard.

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Last year there was talk of a typhoon as well – warnings to stay indoors and shut your windows, make certain you stock up on water, that sort of thing. However, the storm never reached us, instead expending the bulk of its wrath over Taiwan (which, we learned, frequently ends up serving as a bulwark, shielding Xiamen from devastating cyclones). We were relieved, of course, and sad to see the destruction it had wrought on Taiwan, but a part of me felt disappointed that instead of a true tropical storm, we got mildly stronger-than-average winds for an afternoon.

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When, just before the long weekend owing to the Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival on September 15th, word began to spread of an incoming typhoon, I was skeptical. Even when students were sent home early on Wednesday, and people began bringing out sandbags. Naturally, we went through the recommended preparations all the same, but I wasn’t expecting a real display of nature’s might this time, either. And yet the teacher WeChat didn’t quiet, with colleagues continuing to post updates on the typhoon, named Meranti, as it waxed and waned in its approach. By the time we went to bed on Wednesday evening, it had apparently passed Taiwan and was headed our way, now a Category 5 Super Typhoon.

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That night I was awoken by the wife and to the sound of yet another freight truck barreling down the street, willfully ignorant of the speed bumps placed there. Only the rumbling went on, and on. It took me a few seconds to realize it wasn’t Chinese drivers. We looked out the window, the glass trembling in the nearly 200 kph winds. The many trees lining the street outside our apartment complex were deformed, as though bowing before the storm’s might, and rain quite unlike anything I’d seen before furiously pelted the streets and anything, anyone left out in the open.

Once we’d finished gaping at the awesome (in the original sense of the word, and, perhaps, the modern as well) power of the storm, we quickly moved to check our apartment for any leaks, flooding or other damage. However, despite the vicious howling of the gale and torrential downpour, other than the electricity and water being out, everything seemed, surprisingly, in order. A while later we decided to go back to bed, where Liga sat awake, and I (because my spirit animal is the bear) promptly went back to sleep.

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I awoke at around seven and immediately went out to the balcony. The Xiamen outside was almost unrecognizable. The main intersection was flooded, and the street was littered with broken trees and signs.

I inspected our apartment, and everything still seemed in place. Even the power was back on, though the water was still gone. After a quick breakfast we decided to go outside and have a closer look around the neighborhood, but were met with an unexpected obstacle.

The beautiful, green park in the center of our complex seemed more a battlefield now than the tidy bit of landscaping we were accustomed to. Getting through it took a deal of doing, but eventually we got out the gate and got to see the destruction up-close. Nary a tree was unscathed, and most of the recycling bins were anywhere between 5 and 50 meters from their usual spot. Well… here is many thousands of words worth of pictures. See for yourself.

After we got back, we checked the teacher WeChat group, and it seemed we were in exclusive company, having had a fairly uneventful night. Swaying buildings (mind, we live on the 4th floor of a fairly low apartment complex), attempting to circumvent heavy flooding and even broken windows were a handful of things that we didn’t have to deal with, but many others did. There was some fun to be had as well, though – one couple had the wind blowing soap bubbles into their apartment from residual cleaning fluid in the window pane, so it wasn’t all bad, I suppose.

Let me be clear in no uncertain terms: we were incredibly fortunate and blessed. Even today, a week later, there are many people without readily accessible water or electricity, many streets are still littered with tree branches… and trees. The beautiful vegetation decorating pretty much all of Xiamen has suffered a great deal, and it will probably be some time before the city recovers its former luster. A super-typhoon is a fearsome thing, it turns out.

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I am glad we experienced such a thing, but once was enough.

For some additional photos and information: http://bit.ly/2dh2R41

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