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After Hong Kong weathers typhoon, anger roils over Beijing flooding deaths

A powerful typhoon swept through Hong Kong, pounding the region with heavy rain and strong wind. NBC's Ed Flanagan reports.

By Ed Flanagan, NBC News

BEIJING – Hong Kong battened down the hatches Monday and rode out the strongest typhoon to hit the city in 13 years.

For the first time since 1999, Hong Kong raised its Signal 10 typhoon warning – the highest on the city’s weather observatory scale – for several hours Monday evening as typhoon Vicente pounded the region with gale force winds said to have reached speeds as high as 101 miles per hour. 

Hong Kong authorities reported 129 people were injured by the typhoon, with as many as 30 of the injuries caused by flying debris scooped up by the high winds. Seven incidents of flooding were reported in Hong Kong’s New Territories region.

Meanwhile, Beijing suffered through a 10-hour downpour over the weekend that dumped 6.7 inches of rain in parts of the city and as much as 18 inches in the worst hit parts on the outskirts of Beijing in what is being called the worst flooding to hit the Chinese capital in six decades. 

The subsequent severe flooding killed at least 37 people in the country's capital and affected nearly two million people, sparking millions of angry messages and complaints on China’s Twitter-like service, Weibo, in recent days.  Users posted countless home videos and pictures of cars struggling through wheel-deep water, waterfalls cascading down into Beijing's subway entrances and cars being swept away by the currents.

The differing level of destruction between the two cities provoked outrage at Beijing’s government, with critics asking why the city’s infrastructure failed to buffer the storm.


Hong Kong relatively unscathed in typhoon's aftermath
In Hong Kong, the damage from the typhoon wasn’t nearly as bad. Trees throughout the city were overturned while flying debris reportedly caused some minor structural damage in parts of Hong Kong’s usually busy financial district of Central. The high winds were said to have also whipped up large waves in Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbor which pounded walkways and ferry terminals around the famous city skyline.

 

The brewing storm sent office workers scrambling home as they hurried to avoid a partial public transportation suspension in the lead-up to the storm. Non-essential government offices were also closed early Monday and port and airport authorities shut down operations until the storm passed.

During the worst of the storm in the early hours of Tuesday morning, the BBC reported that 60 flights were cancelled, an additional 60 more delayed and 16 diverted.

By Tuesday 8 a.m. local time, the Hong Kong Observatory reported a weakened Typhoon Vicente was heading away from Hong Kong, allowing public transportation and flights from Hong Kong International Airport to resume. Trade on Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index also resumed earlier Tuesday.

The typhoon is reportedly creeping its way into China’s Guangdong province, where weather experts were warning that Vicente could still dump as much as 12 inches of rain in affected areas.

The typhoon comes as China is experiencing serious weather disturbances throughout the country. Near China’s central metropolis of Chongqing, heavy rains have caused flooding and brought the Three Gorges Dam – the world’s largest hydropower dam – perilously close to its largest flood peak this year.

Critics pound government’s response to Beijing storm

While Hong Kong seemed to weather the storm, nearly every aspect of the government’s response to the Beijing flooding has been criticized by the public, with much of the anger being directed at the shoddy drainage system. Netizens have also been quick to complain about the Beijing municipal government’s lack of preparedness for dealing with the disaster and the city’s failures in weather forecasting and deploying a good storm-warning service.

Beijing officials are saying that economic losses from the storm will surpass $1.5 billion dollars. But the PR hit to the city’s vaunted new infrastructure just four years after its coming out party during the summer Olympics has been far more costly -- especially considering the relatively minor damage suffered by Hong Kong from a major typhoon.

Public outrage over Beijing deaths

“Hong Kong just experienced the biggest typhoon in 13 years, but there are only seven reports of flooding, one report of landslide and no one died,” wrote one angry poster on Weibo comparing the Hong Kong typhoon with Beijing’s flooding. “The media effectively announced the alert, and reported the complaints of its citizens…The whole society functions under the normal rhythm.”

“The rainfall in Beijing and the typhoon in Hong Kong,” stated another irate poster. “Two completely different systems are shown in the same mirror.”

Sensitive to the great public outcry, Weibo began censoring overly critical posts on the subject of the Beijing floods. Citing alleged directives from the Beijing Municipal Committee Department of Propaganda, the China Digital Times posted reputed orders from the department that called for “public opinion guidance concerning yesterday’s rainstorms” in the form of state-run media shifting the focus of its news stories away from issues like the failure of the city’s drainage system to features that “emphasize the power of human compassion over the elements.”

On the edge of the Gobi desert, Beijing has not always had to deal with large rainstorms like Hong Kong, which is regularly in the season path of typhoons in the South China Seas area. Still, with more heavy rains expected later this week, local officials here will certainly be feeling the heat to keep the city largely dry throughout the rest of this rainy season.

NBC News’ Tianzhou Ye contributed to this report.