Typhoons Ravage Taiwan
By “Awake!” correspondent in Taiwan
TAIWAN is hit by the second typhoon in six days! This was the report flashed to the world on July 31, 1977, as Typhoon Vera struck the northern cities of Taipei and Keelung. Thelma, the typhoon that hit the southern cities of Kaohsiung and Fengshan and surrounding areas on July 25, reportedly was the strongest since 1952, but the damage to industry and the like was said to be the greatest ever. More than one third of the island’s factories were either severely damaged or put out of commission due to lack of electric power. The newspapers reported that some 155 high-tension transmission-line pylons were downed by the storm. Four thousand concrete power poles were broken! That was the devastation that Typhoon Thelma brought.
Then, six days later, Typhoon Vera hit the northern area of Taiwan, and at least 38 persons were killed. Many others were injured and hundreds of dwellings were destroyed. The news media carried numerous pictures of damage, including that done by a steel pylon that was being used in constructing a flyover (an overpass) in Taipei. It crushed three buses and a number of cars as it fell on them.
Living Through a Typhoon
What is it like to live through a typhoon? These storms can be most capricious. One house may be destroyed while the one next to it escapes almost unharmed. Typhoon paths can change suddenly, as was true with Thelma. This typhoon apparently had passed by Kaohsiung without hitting land. Suddenly, however, the storm made a U-turn and wreaked devastation that affected well over one million people in the Kaohsiung area.
At the branch office of the Watch Tower Society in Taipei, Typhoon Vera did little damage. This led some of the newer resident missionaries to conclude that being in a typhoon was not so bad after all. However, the following report from the fourth-story apartment-missionary home in the city of Fengshan gives another view:
“We’re very thankful that no one was injured. Had anyone been in the dining room when a piece of asbestos roofing smashed through our glass double doors, he would surely have been injured seriously or even killed. The roofing smashed through the doors with such velocity that it knocked a chunk of concrete off the balcony, bent the aluminum cross beam above the doors, ricocheted off the floor into a cupboard and the refrigerator, smashing both with sledge-hammer force. Shattered glass was driven into the concrete walls, the floor and the woodwork, and was scattered throughout every room in the house. When that happened, the four of us were on the rear balcony, which was protected from the wind. But after the front doors broke open, the wind coming through the house put such pressure on the rear balcony door that the wood cracked around the lock and two of us had to brace it with our feet against the opposite wall.”
Other damage to this home included the ripping off of iron doors leading to the roof, the dumping of a 70-kilogram (154-pound) slab of concrete from the top of the water tank on the roof onto the washing machine of the missionary home, crumpling it badly, and the smashing of pipes from the roof tanks so that all the water supply immediately ran out. Books and personal belongings also suffered water damage. Electric power still had not been restored after nine days of intensive efforts on the part of the power company.
Many persons were caught unawares when Thelma struck. A young man, one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, thought things were going to be all right. So he went to work in a factory as usual. Before long he had reason to regret that decision. The wind clutched at the building and it swayed and trembled. Then the roof was ripped off with a terrible wrenching sound. With the roof gone, it was not long before the wind was able to tear away the walls, and the factory literally disappeared before the eyes of the workers!
The only course left for him was to try to get home. Crawling on hands and knees when the wind was at its worst, the young man finally was able to get to a solid pillar of a bridge. Hanging on to it, he prayed to Jehovah God. After some time, the Witness finally made it to his dwelling, only to find that most of the roof was off that building also. No shelter there. Struggling to the nearby Kingdom Hall, he was able to take refuge on the third floor of the building that houses the hall. Although most of the windows had been blown out and the roof was leaking, at least temporary shelter was available there.
After a typhoon, there comes the cleanup work. However, since most homes in these cities are in apartment houses and residents depend on electricity to pump water to the rooftop tanks, the majority of families soon were without water. The missionary home in Kaohsiung, located on the top floor of a three-story building, escaped serious damage. Only three windows were broken because the wind came from the rear of the building where other structures sheltered them. But the roof was filled with debris from other wrecked buildings. The eight missionaries cleaned the roof and there caught some of the copious rain that was falling in the wake of the typhoon. Thus they solved their water problem. Elsewhere persons were not able to do this. For example, the Witness missionaries in Fengshan had to line up with their neighbors at a hand pump some distance away and haul the water to their fourth-floor apartment. As one said, “Yesterday I counted eighteen bucketfuls that I had hauled upstairs.”
Kaohsiung and Keelung are the two largest ports in Taiwan and both are extremely busy. According to the newspapers, Typhoon Thelma sank some 32 boats and damaged 22 ships seriously. It is estimated that at least a year will be required to repair all the damage there. Then Typhoon Vera hit the north of the island, with Keelung port getting the brunt of it. Three of the four gantry cranes for handling containers there were severely damaged. What a blow to this island, which exports and imports huge quantities of goods each day!
The job of cleaning up was complicated by the lack of electricity and water, plus the damage to the communications systems. For many householders these things were the hardest to bear. However, much of Taiwan’s food supply comes from the area around Kaohsiung and, with the area temporarily flooded, vegetable prices soared. Many vegetables, even though damaged by water, were selling at up to 400 percent above regular prices. Pork and beef were not obtainable in Kaohsiung for a while; so people lived on chicken, if they could get it. Fishing boats were not able to go out for some time and this also affected many persons.
In an effort to get things operating again, the government called out the troops and they did much to speed the cleanup operation. The power, water and telephone companies all had their men working day and night to restore services. Hence, except for the most heavily damaged areas, power, water and telephone services were restored in an amazingly short time.
Jehovah’s Witnesses consider it a privilege to comfort the people in Taiwan with the good news that God’s promised new order is near at hand. In it tragic losses of life and property due to typhoons such as Thelma and Vera will be things of the past.
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Workmen make temporary repairs on transmission lines to restore power
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Damage wreaked by Typhoon Thelma in the Kaohsiung harbor area