An intense rainstorm caught Hong Kong unprepared on Saturday, turning day into night, leaving one man dead in a lightning strike and killing another in a boating accident.
The sudden onslaught of inclement weather prompted the Observatory to issue its first red rainstorm warning of the year as heavy showers and strong winds lashed the city, toppling trees, blowing down scaffolding, disrupting traffic and sending people scurrying for shelter while dark clouds reduced visibility to night-time levels.
A man and a woman fell off a sailing yacht from Sai Kung near the Sai Wan Ho Ferry Pier at around 2.50pm. They were rescued about an hour later by a passing vessel.
Following that, a fishing boat capsized in choppy waters off Tung Lung Chau with two men and two women on board. Police said three of them were plucked from the sea and taken to hospital, where one man was certified dead. A search was under way for one man still missing.
In a separate incident, a man was struck by lightning at Cheung Shan in Tai O. He was unconscious when sent to Tuen Mun Hospital, where he was later certified dead.
The city recorded nearly 9,000 lightning strokes between midnight on Friday and 6pm on Saturday, with the bulk of them between 2pm and 3pm.
Although the red rainstorm warning was downgraded to amber at 3.20pm, followed by a cancellation at 4.45pm, forecasters warned of serious flooding and road congestion, a far cry from their prediction on Friday of “sporadic rain” with “sunny intervals”.
“The development of thunderstorms can be quite random and quick,” was how senior scientific officer Lee Tsz-cheung at the Observatory explained the discrepancy.
He said the city had recorded overall rainfall of at least 40mm, with the western and northern parts of the New Territories and Lantau Island reporting 60mm or more.
The freak weather ruined Easter holiday plans for many locals as well as visitors.
Local resident Kim Smith said he had been talking to visiting US sailors at the China Merchants Wharf pier in Kennedy Town when the storm suddenly hit “out of nowhere”.
“A lot of us are actually boaters and sailors, so we’re familiar with bad weather, but it’s unusual for it to come so quickly and so violently,” he said, taking cover in a sheltered cargo loading bay.
He described the winds as “only a bit short of typhoon strength” as they blew over tables and chairs by the pier and even moved a cargo container.
Karen Womick, who was with volunteers from the American Women’s Association of Hong Kong handing out fliers to the sailors, said: “The wind was really strong, I don’t think I’ve seen it go sideways like that before.”
Emergency crews were busy clearing fallen trees and branches causing traffic disruptions in districts such as Wan Chai and Happy Valley.
Tram services were affected in Wan Chai at one stage after falling tree branches hit the overhead cables, while the Peak Tram had to suspend operations due to a fallen tree.
The Ngong Ping 360 cable car, a major tourist attraction on Lantau Island, also suspended services.
The Observatory said gusts reaching 100km/h or more could continue to affect the city.
The Airport Authority said some flights had been delayed because of the adverse weather, but the impact was not severe.
The forecast for Sunday was showers and squally thunderstorms, with sunny intervals in the afternoon.
Bad weather caused the cancellation of a highly anticipated Ed Sheeran concert on Thursday night, leaving thousands of fans bitterly disappointed.
Additional reporting by Naomi Ng
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