The portents were not good. Riding down the mountain behind our apartment at 06.30 on Friday morning, the quickening breeze released a thin two metre long branch that landed vertically in front of me. With balletic grace it held that position long enough for me to meet it with a forty five kph kiss. Fat lip aside I was unhurt but it raised the question as to what else might fall rom the sky with the imminent arrival of Soudelor, the huge typhoon that was rapidly approaching Taiwan’s eastern coast.
As I write, unable to sleep, the time is 04.27 on Sunday morning. The apartment is dark, mirroring the majority in our neighbourhood who are still without power following twelve to eighteen hours of unbridled ferocity through Friday night and Saturday. Venturing out in the early evening the extent of the damage, although crucially only material rather than human, was eerily shocking. We live at the northern end of Zhongshan North Rd, one of Taipei’s main arteries. In scale it is similar in width to London’s Oxford St although much longer. It is also prettier, especially at our suburban end that sees it stop just as the topography begins to climb skywards.
As we walked the four minutes down to our section of road, we could see two large trees upended, barring the way to two of the exits from the roundabout that acts as the terminus of Zhongshan Nth Rd. A few people were standing quietly taking photographs but it was only once passed the larger of the two that we could see the true extent of our section’s transformation. After the roundabout the road drops three quarters of a kilometre to the next major junction that marks the start of section six. Within this stretch of road the normally unencumbered view was obscured by multiple mature trees that had been released from the pavement and now occupied a variety of prone positions. Some straddled all four lanes; others laid across parked cars and lines of mopeds whilst some having survived, had limbs partially severed that swung overhead in the diminishing light.
Amongst all this, life was moving on. The brightly lit 7-11’s were busy, so too was a large Cantonese restaurant and as we turned to walk home there were many shop and home owners who had already started to brush and bag the debris from outside their doors into neat piles along the road-side. Being from the UK such weather borne havoc is rare and when it does arrive (fifteen centimetres of snow can bring the country to the point of apoplexy) we rarely seem to be able to face it with such alacrity. As Soudelor continues on its way to China I can only hope that the number of fatalities and injuries remains as small, somewhat miraculously, as they have been here. It is a humbling experience to witness such extreme power but an experience I am happy to never revisit.