How Hong Kong plans to replace 100,000 trees

Thousands of felled trees have been brought to Kai Tak, the former airport that sits along Hong Kong's famed Victoria Harbor.

Hong Kong (CNN)Downed trees and fallen branches still litter Hong Kong nearly two months after Typhoon Mangkhut ripped through the city.

Mangkhut was the strongest storm to hit Hong Kong since the city began keeping records. Though there was no loss of life, the storm battered the city's buildings, causing more than $1 billion in insurance claims according to some estimates.
But it was the city's green spaces that incurred the greatest damage. The city government estimates that 54,000 trees were felled during the storm, though experts say the number could be nearly double that figure.
    Many of those fallen trees have remained on the ground, blocking paths and walkways.
      It's an unusual sight in a place that prides itself on urban efficiency. The cleanup after the previous typhoon, Hato in 2017, also one of the most powerful storms ever to hit the city, took just days.
      A school bus in Hong Kong's Heng Fa Chuen is seen after being destroyed by a tree during Typhoon Mangkhut.
      Jim Chi-yung, a professor at The Education University of Hong Kong and an expert in urban green spaces, estimates that more than 100,000 trees came down in the storm, pointing to the fact that the government numbers only include the ones reported to authorities.
      "I would describe it as catastrophic in terms of the lost big trees. Over half of our bigger trees in the city are gone," Jim said.
        Hong Kong is well known as an urban jungle, with skyscrapers jutting out of the island's hillside, but the city is surprisingly green and rural. Less than 25% of the land in Hong Kong has been developed. Hiking, cycling, beach trips and boating are some of the most popular weekend activities for residents, expats and tourists.
        "It will take years and years to get back to how it was," said Rory Mackay, the founder and owner of Wild Hong Kong, an adventure and eco tour operator in the city.
        "It's left a lot of scars."
        A view of Hong Kong's Shek O beach from the Dragon Back hiking trail in January 2018. Part of the beach and buildings along the coast were severely damaged in Typhoon Mangkhut.

        Ripped from their roots

        Poor urban planning and the sheer strength of the Typhoon Mangkhut are both to blame for the destruction of so much greenery, experts say.
        City planners have spent years planting large trees that require plenty of space and proper soil management to grow deep roots to anchor themselves. Without that underground support, big trees were bound to come down in a powerful storm, according to Jim.
        "A lot of the trees are growing in a tiny volume of soil. That's why they toppled so easily," he said.
        A flooded and destroyed playground in Hong Kong's Heng Fa Chuen neighborhood is seen after the storm hit.