Disaster-level wind and rain takes Taiwan by surprise as tropical storm passes by without making landfall

Taiwan appears to have underestimated the influence of Severe Tropical Storm Kompasu as it passed by around 400 kilometers south-southeast of the island October 11, 2021.

The outer bands of the storm combined with a monsoonal low pressure system created a “non-traditional tropical storm” according to Central Weather Bureau meteorologists. Combined with Taiwan’s mountainous topography, winds stronger than those near the center of the storm were generated, while heavy to extremely heavy torrential rain fell in the north, eastern, and central mountain districts Monday, and heavy rain continued in east coast counties today, Tuesday, October 12.

people standing on flooded road in Taitung City
The drainage system on Guilin North Road in Taitung City was unable to keep up with the amount of rain falling this morning, Tuesday, October 12. Picture: Taitung City Government.
banyan tree collapsed on road and cars.
A banyan tree falls on road and cars in Chihshang Township, Taitung County, Tuesday, October 12, 2021. Fortunately, nobody was injured. Picture: Chihshang Township representative Chen Jinxing.

While the CWB issued a maritime warning for Tropical Storm Kompasu, October 10, no land warning was issued, and therefore the National Disaster Response Center was not launched ahead of the extreme weather event.

Monday saw rockfalls, landslides, falling trees, surging streams, flooding, power outages in some districts, and other disaster-level incidents. A spate of rescues saw emergency personnel risk life and limb to extract campers and outdoor enthusiasts caught by surprise by rising waves and surging streams.

In Taichung City’s Heping District yesterday, two men who turned back from an attempt at river tracing got into difficulty while crossing the swollen stream. One man was washed away and remains missing.

Taichung City Fire Bureau search and rescue personnel searching for man missing in flooded stream.
Taichung City Fire Bureau search and rescue personnel searching for man missing in a stream in Heping District, Monday, October 11. Picture: TCFB.

In Hsinchu County’s Jianshi Township, two groups of campers totaling 6 people were trapped by the rising stream at the Taigang hot springs area, resulting in an 18-hour-long ordeal by search and rescue personnel who risked their lives to finally extract the stranded campers.

The two unrelated groups had pitched camp on the evening of Sunday, October 10 only to wake up on the 11th finding that the stream had risen and they had no way to get out.

After the first report about a group trapped in the stream bed at 7:25 am, rescuers attempted to swim across the turbulent stream several times, but were unsuccessful. Finally a rope gun was used to rescue one of three men in one of the camper groups in the early afternoon.

Search and rescue personnel twice requested helicopter air support from the National Airborne Service Corps, but the helicopter was unable to assist due to low cloud and poor visibility.

Another two people were rescued using the rope gun method later in the day. By nightfall, three people remained trapped on a ledge below a cliff. Rescue personnel eventually rappelled to the location and lifted the stranded campers out using a sling. The last man was extracted out of the predicament at 11:52 pm.

People trapped on sandbar in a stream in Hsinchu County mountain district
Location of trapped people at Taigang Hot Springs, Jianshi Township, Hsinchu County, Monday, October 11, 2021.
rescued man and rescue personnel
Last man rescued at 11:52 pm.

In Hualien County’s Wanrong Township, a group of six people camping were unable to cross the surging Hongye Stream in their SUVs, and requested assistance from the fire department.

Hualien County Fire Department deployed an excavator to cross the stream to rescue the four men and two women.

people rescued by excavator
Excavator used to rescue people trapped by surging stream in Hualien County. Picture: Hualien County Fire Department.

From midnight to 11 pm yesterday, the top 100 rainfall stations in Taiwan showed extremely heavy rains or heavy rains concentrated in Yilan County and Taichung mountain districts. The highest precipitation levels were 561.5mm in Datong Township, Yilan County, and 524 mm in Heping District, Taichung City.

banana crop blown over by strong wind in Hualien County
Banana plantations around Shoufeng Township, Hualien County were severely affected by strong winds generated by Tropical Storm Kompasu. The Shoufeng Township Farmer’s Association estimates damage at up to NT$31 million.
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