Taiwan was battered by two successive typhoons — Meranti and Malakas — during the Mid-Autumn Festival holiday, bringing chaos to Kaohsiung and Pingtung County with mass power outages, as well as disruptions to water supply and telecommunications.
Premier Lin Chuan (林全) was not pleased with slow infrastructure repairs, despite the restoration of power supply and telecommunications in some of the affected cities and counties, with many households returning to normal life.
He demanded that Taiwan Power (Taipower) and Taiwan Water send their senior management officials to the scene to deal with the problem and “not return home until the job was done.” Lin’s anger reflected what many people in the affected areas were feeling and he earned himself quite a few “likes.”
However, few of those “likes” came from the engineers working on the front line. The typhoons caused outages in almost 1.1 million households, but after the tireless efforts of Taipower engineers, this number dropped to a 10th of that.
As many as 600 electricity pylons were toppled in Pingtung and Kaohsiung, and the company dispatched a third of its repair staff to these two areas alone to ensure that power supply was restored.
It has been a logistical nightmare. The affected areas needed equipment and engineers, and the pylons and cables needed to be replaced. All of this takes time, especially when the damage occurred in remote mountain areas. It is a major operation and not something that can be done with a handful of management officials venturing out into the field.
Taipower recommended that Lin go to the affected areas to see for himself just how hard its engineers were working, adding that they “were not dragging their feet,” and suggesting that the premier “owes the engineers an apology.”
Both sides have a point. As long as the premier and the engineers are doing all they can to do their respective jobs, it does not matter whether they see completely eye-to-eye on every issue. It is not a matter of who is right and who is wrong.
When fierce typhoons such as these lash the nation, people in the affected areas are left without water and electricity. Even when the storms have moved on, reconstruction efforts are hampered if there is no electricity or water.
The public has voiced its anger and the premier heard that anger. That is why he demanded that efforts be redoubled. This is not only what the government is demanding; it is what people in the affected areas expect. It is only right for the premier to stand up for the public.
Nevertheless, it is hard to underestimate the work that needs to be done in the aftermath of major disasters that affect large areas and require a major effort. In addition to toppled electricity pylons, roads in remote mountainous areas collapsed, making access to these areas difficult. Given the limited staff and time, Taipower and Taiwan Water engineers had their work cut out for them. People should perhaps cut them a little slack.
Taiwan is something of a disaster magnet. Earthquakes, typhoons, floods, water shortages — all of these can happen with little or no warning. The government and the public need to be prepared at all times. Specific standard operating procedures need to be established to respond to a range of possible disasters, in all degrees of severity. And when disaster strikes, we should not engage in finger-pointing; we should work together, in a spirit of mutual understanding and good faith.
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