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August 24, 2017

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Who's to blame for EVA's botched typhoon day?

On the face of it, the thousands of tourists stranded at Taoyuan's airport because air crew took "typhoon leave" on a clear Sunday point to bad luck or mismanagement. The next day, Tainan's mayor was hit with public complaints when his administration announced at 6:30 a.m. on Monday that school and work would be canceled for the day.

These episodes appear to be avoidable with better weather forecasts and management skills. But while that might be true in some cases, the public should realize that confusion is part of the damage brought by natural disasters: The crowded airport on Sunday was a scene of the typhoon's rampage, even though there were no floods or toppled trees.

The formation of Tropical Storm Haitang just as Nesat approached Taiwan caught forecasters and government officials off guard.

All the local governments announced work and school suspensions for Sunday with the expectation that Nesat would hover around Taiwan through the weekend. But perhaps due to the influence of Haitang, Nesat moved through Taiwan faster than expected.

Some 500 EVA Air flight attendants took natural disaster leaves on Sunday, forcing the air carrier to cancel 50 flights and ground nearly 10,000 passengers.

Whether the flight attendants were taking typhoon holidays collectively as a de facto strike is beside the point. After all, it was the local governments — not the flight attendants — that had declared a typhoon day, in what turned out to be the wrong decision.

With the benefit of hindsight, it is easy to tell good typhoon calls from the bad ones, but decision-makers are never blessed with such a gift.

The difficulty of making correct decisions is clear in the case of Tainan Mayor William Lai. Lai had been praised in 2012 for his "godlike" decision to go against neighboring administrations and not suspend work as a typhoon approached Taiwan (the weather turned out to be fine). This time around, however, he has been forced to apologize publicly for abruptly changing his mind about opening the city for business. The about-face occurred after heavy rain started in Tainan from 4 a.m. Monday: Lai announced that school and work would be canceled at 6:30 a.m., as some office workers were already on their commute.

It is easy to blame politicians, businesses or even employees for the troubles created by miscalled typhoon leaves. However, we have to remember the simple fact that human beings, even in this age of technological advancement, are still at the mercy of the forces of nature. Typhoon damage is caused not only by the force of the wind and the rain but also by its unpredictability, and — under the influence of global warming — the path of natural disasters is bound to only get more unpredictable.

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