Vehicular access to two Hong Kong coastal villages will resume from 9 pm on Thursday, the government has announced. Shek O and Big Way Bay were cut off from the city for a second time in a week due to a collapsed section of the road following historic rainfall.

A heavy downpour hit Hong Kong early on Thursday morning, causing the Observatory to issue its Red rainstorm warning signal and the Education Bureau to cancel many classes.

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Shek O Road, in Hong Kong, on September 14, 2023. Photo: Supplied.

More than 50 millimetres of rain was recorded over eastern parts of Hong Kong Island, Kowloon, Sha Tin and Tai Po, the Observatory said, with the Southern District Office announcing that “the recent collapse of Shek O Road near Lan Nai Wan expanded.”

The Red rainstorm warning was issued at 5.55 am, with the Observatory warning that further heavy rain could cause serious flooding and traffic disruption. It was replaced by the lower Amber warning signal at 10.30 am.

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A red minibus makes its way past a collapsed section of Shek O Road, on September 14, 2023. Photo: GovHK.

After allowing limited access on Shek O Road to red minibuses and government vehicles from noon, the Transport Department announced at 5.50 pm that light vehicles would be able to pass later on Thursday evening.

“After emergency repairs carried out by the Highways Department and the Civil Engineering and Development Department, one lane of the Shek O Road can be reopened to light vehicles, including red minibuses, at about 9pm today,” the Transport Department said. Drivers were advised to pay careful attention to traffic directions.

Residents of the coastal villages of Shek O and Big Wave Bay were cut off from the city for the second time in a week, after Thursday morning’s rainfall washed away emergency repair works along the only road providing access to the area.

Chief Executive John Lee assesses the damage caused by landslides on Shek O Road, Hong Kong, on September 9, 2023. Photo: John Lee/Facebook.
Chief Executive John Lee inspects the damage left behind by the rainstorm in Shek O on Sept. 9, 2023. Photo: GovHK.

Images showed red-and-white plastic hoarding set up around a collapsed section of the road caused by a landslide that occurred during record rainfall last Thursday night had disappeared.

“Relevant departments are inspecting the relevant locations and will carry out emergency repairs as soon as possible,” the Southern District Office said, adding that care teams had been mobilised to provide assistance to residents.

“For residents who have a pressing need to leave Shek O, the Government will assist them to leave urgently by the sea route,” the district office said.

HKFP has reached out to the Highways Department and Civil Engineering and Development Department for comment.

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People exit an MTR train while the Red rainstorm warning is in place, on September 14, 2023. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

Speaking to HKFP last Saturday, Southern District Councillor Paul Zimmerman that issues surrounding drainage and infrastructure on Hong Kong’s old mountain roads, including Shek O Road, were long-standing. “They [have] very outdated drainage systems and very outdated road infrastructure,” have said.

A spokesperson from the Drainage Services Department told HKFP by phone on Thursday morning to wait for a response from the Highways Department and Civil Engineering and Development Department, and that they had no further comment.

The Education Bureau announced the suspension of schools at around 6 am, marking the third day of interrupted classes because of extreme weather since the school year began on September 1. “As the Red Rainstorm Warning Signal is now in force, classes of all AM schools and whole-day schools are suspended today,” it said.

Schools that offered afternoon classes would open as normal, the Education Bureau said soon after 11.30 am.

In a statement issued at 6 am, the Labour Department reminded employers to allow staff flexibility to work from home, if necessary, and consider the need to report for duty and early release.

“Employers should make prior work arrangements and contingency measures for staff. In drawing up and implementing the work arrangements, employers should give prime consideration to employees’ safety and the feasibility for employees to travel to and from their workplaces,” a department spokesperson said.

The Social Welfare Department advised people not to take children or family members to child care centres, centres providing after school care programmes, elderly services centres or day rehabilitation units.

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“Heavy rain is expected to persist over the territory in the next couple of hours,” the Hong Kong Observatory said on Thursday morning. “Members of the public should be on the alert.”

Hong Kong has been subjected to heavy rainfall intermittently since last Thursday, when hourly rainfall of 158.1 millimetres was recorded, the highest since records began in 1884.

Speaking at an inter-departmental press conference last Friday to address the severe flooding and landslides caused by the historic downpour, Lee Lap-shun, the acting director of the Hong Kong Observatory, said the city had recorded over 600 millimetres of rainfall within 24 hours, equivalent to a quarter of its average annual rainfall. Tai Tam and Chai Wan experienced some of the heaviest downpours.

Hong Kong weather forecast September 14 2023
The nine-day weather forecast for Hong Kong on September 14, 2023. Photo: Hong Kong Observatory.

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Mercedes is a British journalist who has been based in Hong Kong since 2012. At Hong Kong Free Press, she has covered a number of local environmental issues, including climate inequality and marine biodiversity, and explored how Hong Kong's arts scene reflects a changing city. She has contributed to the Guardian and BBC Travel, and previously worked at the South China Morning Post, where she wrote a weekly column about the social and environmental impact of tourism in Asia.