Reacting to news that Kansai International Airport, Japan’s third-busiest airport, was flooded and damaged by Typhoon Jebi and also found itself cut off from Osaka city for a while, a former Hong Kong official has warned that Hong Kong’s airport is also vulnerable to such storm-related catastrophes.
Lam Chiu-ying, former director of the Hong Kong Observatory, said the Hong Kong International Airport (HKIA) could lose its external link and become an isolated island if it is hit by a strong storm, just like what happened this week at its peer in the Osaka Bay after a major typhoon.
Lam pointed out that HKIA, like the Kansai International Airport, is also located on an artificial island on land acquired through reclamation, and that it basically has one passageway for connection to the city.
If there is a severe storm, the Hong Kong airport may one day find itself in the same unfortunate situation as its Kansai peer suffered this week in the wake of Jebi, he told media on Wednesday.
Hong Kong cannot afford to ignore the risks, given that climate globally has become more and more unpredictable, the former observatory chief said.
The comments came after Jebi swept through western Japan on Tuesday, causing some casualties and huge property losses, mostly in the Osaka prefecture.
The typhoon, recognized as the worst storm to hit Japan in 25 years, saw the Kansai International Airport get cut off from the mainland, leaving thousands stranded at the facility.
That came as ground transport was disrupted after a bridge connecting the airport to Izumisano City on the mainland got hit by a tanker following severe winds.
Meanwhile, parts of the airport, particularly runways and a basement, were flooded, adding to the woes of airport authorities.
The airport has been shut down for damage assessment and repair works, and there is no certainty as to when operations will fully return to normal.
Lam, the former Hong Kong Observatory director, warned that the HKIA, which celebrated its 20th anniversary in July, may well find itself in a similar sorry situation, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports.
Hong Kong airport is similar to the Kansai facility in two ways, that is, they both are built on an artificial island acquired by reclamation and only have one external transport link, Lam noted.
The fears of the airport being cut off are not unjustified, given the fact that currently the road traffic between HKIA/Lantau Island and the urban areas can be easily paralyzed whenever a traffic incident occurs on the North Lantau Highway and the Lantau Link, which together constitute the only link between the airport and the city.
As HKIA is situated on an artificial island, it may not have sufficient protection to withstand the power of a severe typhoon, whose number is likely to increase in coming years due to warmer seawater caused by the effects of global warming, Lam said in a radio program Wednesday.
Although the design of HKIA had factored in multiple factors, including global warming, into consideration, they were all only based on the environment at that time, Lam said, adding that it is more difficult to predict climate changes now.
In response to such concerns, the Transport and Housing Bureau said the problem of HKIA’s over-reliance on one external link will be mitigated once the Northern Connection of Tuen Mun-Chek Lap Kok Link is in place.
The new link will serve as an alternative route between the airport and North Lantau, and the urban area, after it opens in 2020.
A spokesperson for the Airport Authority said the HKIA is well-positioned to address all the potential risks, such as extreme tidal waves and serious flooding.
The third runway project, which is under construction, has taken into account suggestions made in 2014 by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change under the United Nations, the spokesperson said.
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