On the first night I was in Macau, I went into town to eat dinner and buy some groceries. But after leaving the restaurant, it seemed like everything was closed. Storefronts were boarded up and the streets seemed to have emptied. Finally we went to a supermarket that was open and it seemed that we had found the people missing from the streets. The line wrapped around the store, and I decided to wait until tomorrow to buy groceries.
I didn’t have anything to compare that night to, so I thought that perhaps things just closed early in Macau. It was only after I had returned to my room that I learned that there was a typhoon warning in effect, and people were buying supplies. I went down to the vending machine and bought some food, but didn’t give it a second thought.
The next day at work, I discovered that a typhoon and a hurricane were the same thing. In my head typhoons were just strong rains, not the same thing as hurricanes like Katrina and Harvey. I can still remember reading a book in first grade about hurricanes and then being terrified that one might hit Chicago.
This week, as I heard about the incoming Hurricane Florence, I was beginning to prepare for Super Typhoon Mangkhut. The idea of getting through any natural disaster was new to me, and I didn’t know what to expect. After making several trips to the supermarket on campus and grocery stores in Taipa, I felt more prepared. I had water, and a decent supply of food that didn’t require refrigeration.
Macau has different signal numbers that describe how dangerous the weather is throughout a typhoon. Saturday was horribly hot, the temperatures in the 90s and the signal number was at three. I still am not completely sure of the severity the different signals indicate, but I was told that as long as it was at three, it was safe to be outside. I played basketball in the late afternoon, and then went back to my room. The Typhoon was supposed to hit the next day.
When I woke up Sunday morning, it was raining hard, and the signal had moved up to 8. I sat in the back of my room, away from my window, and watched as the rain came down in horizontal sheets. My room is on the fourth floor and looks out at another building, so it was difficult to gage the destructive force of the wind. Occasionally, I could see it by the way the rain would shift, and by the way the windows shook.
The signal went up to ten, and I watched on a map as the typhoon came closer, and eventually passed. It was a boring day, yet one that had me on edge. I could see how hard the wind was blowing, and imagined the windows shattering, and being forced into some kind of action. Luckily, it never happened. That night, the rain stopped and I walked to the first floor to get a snack from the vending machine.
Even in the courtyard of the college, surrounded on all sides by buildings, I had to hold my hat to my head so that it didn’t fly away. It was dark, and the only damage I could make out was a tree had blown over. I went to sleep that night listening to the wind still moaning outside.
Today, classes were cancelled and I had the day off, but I still had work to do, so I packed up my bag and went into the office. I had not seen much damage yesterday, but the evidence of Mangkhut’s power was visible everywhere.
As I walked around the campus I listened to The Daily, a New York Times podcast. It told the story of a man who had lost his wife in Hurricane Harvey. It is a well done podcast that shares a heartbreaking story. I had not planned to listen to this particular story while walking amongst the wreckage but it is what ended up happening. Seeing the damage around me while hearing this story affected me.
I was lucky. I was seeing what a hurricane or typhoon could do to buildings and trees, while hearing what it did to a family in Texas. Mangkhut has caused 49 deaths so far in the Philippines and injured over 100 in Hong Kong. It is difficult to imagine the magnitude of the destruction when seeing it through pictures and videos.
Today, I saw trees that had been snapped in half, and pieces of concrete that had been blown off of bridges. It was all around me, and we weren’t even hit with the brunt of the storm. This morning, I felt incredibly small seeing how random and delicate life can be. And I felt thankful that family and friends asked if I was ok, and I was able to say that I was fine.