Graft probe in Macau as gambling said to affect delay in storm alerts

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Macau graft busters are investigating the city’s weather bureau over its handling of Typhoon Hato.
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Macau graft busters are investigating the city’s weather bureau over its handling of Typhoon Hato, amid reports that deference to the gambling industry was behind delays to its storm warnings.

The destruction wrought by Hato, which killed at least 23 people across southern China, 10 of them in Macau, prompted the resignation of Macau’s weather chief, an apology from the city’s leader and deployment of the People’s Liberation Army Macau garrison.

Reports said consideration for the city’s gambling industry played a role in delaying the storm warning over Hato, which hit the city last Wednesday and was believed to be the strongest storm in 53 years.

Macau’s Commission Against Corruption said they had received a “large volume of complaints” over the Macau Meteorological and Geophysical Bureau’s typhoon warning.

The investigation into the bureau centers on its “typhoon warning process and its internal management” along with its former head, Fong Soi-kun, who resigned last Thursday, the commission’s statement said.

It added that it received similar complaints last year during Typhoon Nida, when the third highest typhoon warning, T8, was not raised. T8 mandates a shutdown of the city.

No illegal practices were found after that investigation but the commission noted at the time that there were “clear problems” with forecasting procedures and it made a number of recommendations to the observatory’s management about how to improve its work.

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A shopkeeper puts suitcases out to dry yesterday after they were soaked by Typhoon Hato.

As Hato intensified last Wednesday, nearby Hong Kong posted a signal 8 storm warning, the third-highest, and said it was likely to go higher. However, residents in Macau went to work when the government raised only a signal 3 warning.

Under a signal 8, all normal business is closed but casinos typically continue to operate.

“There can be no doubt the ‘casino factor’ plays into the thinking of those charged with making storm signal decisions,” an unnamed source told the South China Morning Post, adding that once a T8 is raised, casinos must pay staff overtime.

When Hato ripped through the gambling hub, it plunged casinos into darkness and causing destructive floods.

Around 1,000 PLA troops spent three days helping to clean up after the storm. 

They were joined by local residents of all ages working to clear piles of debris and blown down trees.

On Monday, Chief Executive Fernando Chui created a commission and special taskforce to review and handle Macau’s response system for major disasters.

While the operators of Macau’s multi-billion casinos slowly started to resume business this week, critical infrastructure flaws have been exposed with houses still without water and a deluge of rubbish and debris still in some streets.

Meanwhile, Macau police have arrested an elderly man and his sister for spreading false information online, saying that bodies were found in a flooded car park in one of the worst hit areas, the Post reported yesterday.


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