“Some of these trees … [have] gone through 500, 600, 700 typhoons — and they collapse at this one,” said Ian Robinson, vice president of the International Society of Arboriculture’s Hong Kong chapter. Typhoon Mangkhut has been “particularly nasty,” he said.
Hong Kong residents are also mourning the loss of historically significant sites damaged by the winds, which reached up to 120 mph. Among these were the iconic Duddell Street Steps, which date to sometime between 1875 and 1883. Declared a monument in 1979, the steps were lit by the only working gas lamps still in existence in Hong Kong, and they are a popular setting for Hong Kong movies and television shows.
Three of the four gas lamps were destroyed when a massive tree growing at the top of the steps completely ripped out the stone that surrounded it and fell down onto the stairs, blocking the path completely.
Melissa Cate Christ, a landscape architect and research assistant professor at Hong Kong Polytechnic University, said the Duddell Street Steps were part of the remaining physical evidence of the first settlements in Hong Kong. The steps — the only ones to have monument status in the city — are an important public space.
“There’s an important social aspect there,” she said. “There’s a lot of hanging out that happens on stairs in Hong Kong.”
A spokeswoman for the Hong Kong government’s agency in charge of urban planning said authorities are looking at the damage and hope to “draw up an appropriate conservation plan” for the historic steps. Agencies in charge have saved ripped-up stones, cement and the broken lamps, and are saving them until they can be restored.
The damage, which will take days for authorities to assess and clean up, has preservationists calling for a more thoughtful way to repair Hong Kong and prepare for the city’s “new normal” — the reality that typhoons such as Mangkhut will be more frequent and more severe in years to come.
“If this is the new normal, then we need to rethink how things are built and how they are supported,” Christ said. The focus, she added, should be on how to build “a sustainable and resilient Hong Kong in the face of climate change.”