Thursday, 29 September 2011

Cyclone Nesat

Cyclone Nesat came to our island in Hong Kong last night. The wind first, furious, rattling the windows, banging at the doors, throwing its weight against the walls. It wouldn't let go, but gripped the metal that holds the roof canopy in place. It shook, hard. I swear I felt the floors shudder.

That's how it went on, all night long while I lay in bed: boom, rattle, thud, boom, rattle, thud. I thought, any minute now, the cyclone wind will break through the wide glass doors, the ones I sleep next to. It'll smash its way in, and rip in vengeance around the room. Then the bedsheet won't offer any protection.

In the dark hours past two I must have dozed, because my eyes suddenly opened with an instinctive shock. A sound I knew but never heard before. A booming timber crack: the tallest tree, next to the house. Branches slumped, heavy against the windows. I waited for the glass to give way, to snap in two like a shot rings out, but there was nothing, only a moment of quiet, followed by a sigh; a long, soft, slippery shush as the tree went down, ending in a whoomph as the trunk bounced against the earth.

Then came the rain. Oh, my goodness, the rain. How much rain can any house take? Floodwater of rain, hosing the walls, sluicing the ground. I thought, crossing my fingers, maybe the water signals the end, and here's the sound of guilt and penitence, washing the bloodied scene, removing all traces of leaves, branches, fallen trees, creating the world all fresh, as if harm had never been.

But the water only brought more evidence, debris scuddering along our balcony. The torn remains of someone's canvas roof. Ripped pieces of plastic awning. Frayed lengths of string, twine, a strip of wire that maybe someone had used in hope to hold down a treasure they couldn't carry indoors.

By morning, the sounds were the same, boom, rattle, thud, but I took comfort from the sky and the low grey light. I crept up to windows to watch the rain stream down and the trees twirl. I saw what the cyclone had done to the neighbour's roof, and wondered about ours. I didn't dare go up and look.

The children woke and rattled the house from the insides. The screens of computers told us the weather was Warning 8, two steps away from mortal matters and evacuation. Keep your children away from windows. Huddle them on sheltered sides of the house. I looked at Shark, Tiger, Squirrel, bouncing irrepressibly around sofas, edged fractious by interrupted sleep, squealing with alternate delight and horror at the storm outside. I couldn't bear to think about Warning 10.

With nothing else to do, but fret about the point when a house can break, I made jokes. The ferries had stopped with the deep sea swell. Hong Kong was closed down, shuttered up. No way on or off our outlying island. Even the emergency helicopter won't get through. Help! We're trapped on an island in a storm! And one of us is a tickler!

I wriggled my fingers around Tiger's ribs, and her face changed from fret to giggle. Dig, with his impeccable sense of timing, announced he'd read there was indeed a poisoner on the island; two dogs had died only the day before from food laced with paraquat. Everyone went quiet.

No going out. No supplies, no shops, no breakfast. I rummaged around cupboards and quietly regretted our practice of shopping for what we need, when we want to eat. I found flour, sugar and butter, and made a great bright fuss about the resulting home-baked scones. But no-one particularly wanted to eat them. Made restless with the storm we spent our time watching the world outside through satellite screens, studying in slow and steady detail the rolling cyclone eye, willing it to veer south, west, away from us. Biting our nails, towards mainland China.

By afternoon, the storm had lessened, but Warning 8 was still in force. Dig said it should be Warning 3, but in Hong Kong even the weather is subject to politics. The government doesn't want three million people wondering at midday if they should go to the office. So the day stays cancelled, even though the cyclone's arms are spinning away, the danger passed.

Dig went out to regard the little town, ignoring my cautious peering at the window and asking, Is it safe? I wanted him to do what he always does: outline sensible plans, draw up policies, provide clear strategies for damage limitation. No need. He comes back with eye witness reports. The shop at the corner was open. They had no bread, few vegetables, a little fruit, but they were still selling beer, cereal and dried noodle, so all not lost, and here's pasta for dinner.

Then it's all over, except the gusts and squalls of the normal sub-tropics. Mrs Li, the shopkeeper, rolling back the shutters of her all-purpose grocery store, says 'Big wind huh?' and tuts. What do you expect? It's the season. You wide-eyed foreign devils, you make such a fuss of it all. Like no-one ever experienced a typhoon before.


sharon said...

Scary stuff Grit. We've had some shocking storms this year too - although not quite full on cyclones in our part of WA.

Nora said...

I'm glad you are all okay. That sounded scary enough to me. I've only lived through bad storms and that was bad enough for me. Better get some supplies in the house now.

Deb said...

Cyclone! Typhoon! So exotic!