Taiwan, a veteran of the western Pacific’s late-summer typhoons, is used to tree branches flung across streets and signboards blown down by wind gusts. But the typhoon that ripped across the island Saturday has confronted millions of people with tap water unfit for drinking, rare fallout from the seasonal storms.
Flooding from Typhoon Soudelor overwhelmed water purification systems in two cities, including the capital Taipei, and in one large county. “It’s over its capacity,” says Li Wei-sen, secretary-general of the government’s National Science and Technology Center for Disaster Reduction. “The system needs a lot of time to purify such muddy water.”
Turning on the tap brings cloudy, yellowish or even brown water, which smells like soil. Taiwanese have complained to water companies about being unable to drink or being afraid to bathe. Some have bought out-sized supplies of bottled water, emptying supermarket shelves. Local authorities recommend boiling tap water through Tuesday, advice repeated in the de facto U.S. embassy’s “emergency message” Monday to American citizens. In at least one part of Taipei, a local politician passed out bottles of the pure stuff.
About 5 million people are getting dirty water Monday, Li said. up from 100,000 households where supplies were soiled after a typhoon in 2004. It took a month to clean up the water in 2004, the last time a typhoon caused mass contamination, Li said. He expects the supplies muddied after Saturday’s storm to clear up in two to three days as sediments sink and ease the burden on purification plants.