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Chinese army mobilised as typhoon death toll rises in Macau

Chinese People’s Liberation Army soldiers, based at a barracks in Macau, help clear debris from a street in Macau on August 25, 2017, two days after Typhoon Hato hit the territory. The Chinese army joined relief efforts in Macau where at least nine people are now known to have died when a huge typhoon swept through the gambling hub. / AFP PHOTO / Anthony WALLACE

The Chinese army on Friday joined relief efforts in Macau where at least 10 people died after a huge typhoon ripped through the gambling hub, as troops were drafted in to clear piles of debris still blocking streets.

Around 48 hours after Severe Typhoon Hato smashed into southern China, worst-hit Macau was still picking up the pieces, with the enclave’s government facing recriminations over its lack of preparation.

The government sent a request to Chinese authorities asking for the assistance of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Macau garrison to assist in relief efforts, the first such request since the city was handed over to China in 1999.

“The PLA Macau Garrison have joined hands with the Macau Government and the Macau public for post-typhoon relief and construction work,” a government statement said Friday.

Authorities said around 1,000 troops were mobilised in the morning.

Residents volunteered to pick debris off the streets alongside troops who were seen clearing away items ranging from computer equipment to gas cylinders.

The official death toll in Macau hit 10 Friday night after yet another man’s body was pulled from an underground car park.

A further eight people are known to have died in the neighbouring Chinese province of Guangdong.

“It’s been absolutely devastating for Macau,” Andrew Scott, chief executive officer of O MEDIA, a media company in the city, told AFP.

“There is a real air of despondency. Each addition to the death toll is absolutely demoralising to the citizens of Macau,” he said.

A taxi driver who identified himself as Ben said he expected the PLA to handle the clean-up effectively.

“There are so many disasters in China, they can handle it in a couple of days, a situation like this could be quite easy for them,” he said.

‘Extremely difficult’
On Thursday evening, as residents of the former Portuguese colony queued for drinking water, Macau’s leader Fernando Chui and other government ministers bowed their heads for a minute’s silence and made a public apology.

“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,” he said, adding that the city’s meteorological bureau chief had resigned.

Casinos, which brought in more than $28 billion in 2016 — over half of Macau’s GDP — were among the casualties of the storm, and reporters who got inside the Wynn Macau found switched off slot machines and no air conditioning.

Other casinos and resort facilities in the city were either shut or running at limited capacity.

“It will probably take at least a week to normalise again and for visitors to feel comfortable about coming again,” gaming analyst Ben Lee of IGamiX consultancy told AFP, adding that some casinos were unprepared for the severity of the storm.

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.

Although 120 people were hurt, there were no fatalities in the city, where careful planning and long experience with extreme weather is credited with limiting the devastation.

But the Hong Kong Observatory warned Friday night of another tropical cyclone heading towards the area, estimated it to make landfall on the Chinese coast some 177 kilometres (110 miles) west of Macau on Sunday night.

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