Even as America's East Coast was struggling to get trains back on track and planes in the air after hurricane Irene, Taiwan's east coast – 12 time zones away in the western Pacific – was heading to work after its own major typhoon, underscoring the strides the island has made in habitual, meticulous preparations for annual storms.
Typhoon Nanmadol, which struck Monday, brought wind gusts of up to 137 kph (85 m.p.h.) and rainfall of more than two feet in the mountains. But during the workday, cars swarmed through the capital Taipei for the usual rush hour, coffee shops filled with students on their final days of summer break, and hotel conference centers buzzed with corporate press conferences.
“Through [Typhoon] Morakot two years ago and some heavy storms last year, we’ve been rigorously tested, and since the land warnings were issued this year, we focused more on the typhoon’s strength and scale to make the right preparations,” says Chung Chia-bin, vice magistrate of Pingtung county in southern Taiwan.
“Also since then, lots of infrastructure has been strengthened, for example roads and bridges, so these largely avoided disaster,” he adds.
Taiwan is used to typhoons, as the island of 23 million people gets three or four per year. Office workers joke that they encourage typhoons to land mid-week so they can take government-ordered days off work. Surfers launch themselves into typhoon-driven swells instead of fleeing the coast.
Taiwan’s government has also learned from its worst storm in 50 years, Typhoon Morakot in 2009. That storm set off a mudslide that killed 700 people, angering many who felt the government could have reacted faster.
Before Typhoon Nanmadol reached Taiwan and weakened to a tropical storm, authorities had evacuated about 11,000 people.
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A disaster response center run by the Ministry of Economic Affairs had put the Army on alert, stashed food for any long-term evacuees, and monitored 318 creeks in canyons prone to mudslides as the storm passed over south Taiwan.
When flood waters began rising in parts of Taiwan, the government sent pumps to keep the levels low. Electricity at all but 5,100 households of the nearly 40,000 that lost it had been restored by 7 p.m.
Nanmadol, which killed at least 13 people in the Philippines, left one person dead in Taiwan. He was a motor scooter rider who slid on a wet ramp. Flooding left a relatively light NT$10 million (US$344,000) in damage to the island’s farms.
The storm is expected to clear Taiwan by Tuesday morning.