Typhoon Hato leaves 16 dead after lashing southern China

Elaine YU
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Typhoon Hato brought floodwaters and debris to large parts of Hong Kong

The death toll from Severe Typhoon Hato rose to at least 16 Thursday after the storm left a trail of destruction across southern China, blacking out Macau's mega-casinos and battering Hong Kong's skyscrapers.

Eight died in the gambling hub of Macau, where images showed cars underwater and people swimming along streets. The enclave's famed mega-casinos were running on backup generators.

Macau's leader made a public apology after his government came under fire for its delayed storm warning, while the head of the weather bureau resigned.

A man was killed by a wall that was blown down, another fell from a fourth-floor terrace and one was hit by a truck.

The Macau government said two bodies were found in a flooded car park early Thursday, and that two more died when they were trapped in the basement of their shop. Details of the remaining death were not immediately available.

Footage published Thursday on the website of Apple Daily showed water gushing into an underground car park, with people wading through neck-deep water littered with debris as one man shouted in panic. It was not clear if it was the same car park where the bodies had been found.

"I have never seen Macau like this since I came here in the 70s," a taxi driver aged in his 50s who gave his name as Lao told AFP.

"It's like they were trying to gamble with their luck," Lao said adding that authorities had reacted too slowly and did too little to alert residents of the coming storm.

Blacked-out slot machines were seen at the largely empty Wynn Macau casino where there was no air conditioning and a musty atmosphere.

However, a few dozen gamblers ignored the heat and tried their luck at four baccarat tables.

A staff member at the enclave's sprawling Venetian resort said its casino and shops were open, but there was no air conditioning. A source had said on Wednesday that the complex was running on back-up power.

But at the Grand Lisboa Hotel in central Macau, an employee told AFP it was still without electricity and water and that its casino and restaurants were closed.

The city's gambling industry generated over 220 billion patacas ($27.29 billion) in revenue in 2016, over half of its annual GDP, as it hosted more than 30 million visitors.

- 'Tremendous damage' -

Macau's leader Fernando Chui and other government ministers bowed their heads during a minute's silence at an evening press conference.

"These two days, we have faced an extremely difficult test together. Hato is the strongest typhoon in 53 years and has brought tremendous damage to Macau," Chui told reporters.

"In facing this disaster, we admit we have not done enough, there is space for improvement. Here I represent the Macau government in expressing our apologies to the residents," he said, adding that the city's meteorological bureau chief had resigned.

Debris was scattered on roads and a shipping container was washed up on its side in front of a temple after Wednesday's storm.

Streets were lined with trash and shattered glass and residents holding plastic buckets queued for water from fire hydrants.

"We've been going without water and electricity for more than 24 hours. It's so hot," May Lee, in her 40s, who was in line for water, told AFP, adding that there was not even water for flushing the toilet.

In Hong Kong, Hato -- whose name is Japanese for "pigeon" -- sparked the most severe Typhoon 10 warning, only the third time a storm of this power has pounded the financial hub in the past 20 years.

The city could have suffered losses of HK$8 billion ($1.02 billion), Chinese University of Hong Kong economics professor Terence Chong told AFP, referring to the value of its daily GDP.

More than 120 were injured as the city was lashed with hurricane winds and pounding rain.

In the neighbouring southern Chinese province of Guangdong, at least eight people have died, state broadcaster CCTV reported, while around 27,000 were evacuated to temporary shelters, the official Xinhua news agency said. Nearly two million households were briefly without power.

CCTV said four of the mainland deaths had occurred in Zhuhai, three in Zhongshan and one in Jiangmen.

Hato was downgraded to a tropical depression Thursday afternoon as it travelled further into China

Hong Kong and the surrounding region is regularly battered by typhoons between July and October.