Firefighters search for people after scaffolding collapsed on Broadwood Road in Happy Valley.
© Felix Wong
Firefighters search for people after scaffolding collapsed on Broadwood Road in Happy Valley.
A worker died and three others were rescued by emergency services after massive scaffolding around a high-rise residential building in Hong Kong collapsed on Friday morning under the onslaught of heavy rain and strong winds brought by a typhoon.

Police said two women working on the site at the Beverly Hill estate on Broadwood Road in Happy Valley were found at the scene, one of whom was pulled unconscious from the debris while the other was unhurt.

The injured woman died in Ruttonjee Hospital in Wan Chai at about 12.45pm. Two trapped drivers were also rescued from their vehicles after the scaffolding crumpled onto the road below.

Torrential downpours prompted the Hong Kong Observatory to upgrade its rainstorm warning at 11.45am to black - the highest level and one that was last issued on June 28. The warning was downgraded to red an hour later, with heavy rain still lashing the city.

Earlier, with Tropical Storm Lionrock skirting Hong Kong, the Observatory issued a No 3 typhoon signal, which was expected to remain in force for most of the day.

Seven people - five men and the two women - were working on the renovation site at the Happy Valley building when the scaffolding suddenly came crashing down at about 10.30am, completely covering the entrance to the private housing estate and blocking the road below.

Before disaster struck, the bamboo scaffolding and netting surrounded all 30 floors of the block at the entrance of the estate.

Some residents said the structure had been in place for about a year during renovation works to building facades, lobbies and recreational facilities on the estate. They said the crash site was busy with people waiting for taxis and entering the estate around the time of the disaster.

One of the two drivers trapped in their vehicles suffered minor injuries. The owner of one of the cars said a piece of scaffolding smashed through the windscreen and struck the driver on the arm. He is said to be in a stable condition in hospital.

The car owner said that an amber rain warning in force at the time was insufficient for the weather conditions. "To be honest, the rain and the wind was so bad this morning the red or black rain warning should have been in place earlier."

"It might have been that the scaffolding had flaws as well. We won't know until an inquiry is complete. The bamboo went through the car and hit his arm ... lucky it was not further to the right."

A homeowner, who declined to be named, said a black rain warning should have been issued earlier to suspend building works before people were on-site. "The company concerned should have really cancelled the work day for their staff under these conditions," he said.

The Labour Department on Friday afternoon said officials had visited the site and were probing the incident.

Earlier, the department urged employers across the city to assess whether staff needed to report for work, and to consider making alternative arrangements.

Calling for an investigation, the Hong Kong Construction Industry Employees General Union said lessons must be learned and urged contractors to ensure worker safety.

A spokeswoman for CR Construction Company, the contractor for the renovations, said its staff were deployed on-site and they were looking into the matter.

The management office at Beverly Hill has told residents that CR was clearing the scaffolding and aimed to reopen the road later on Friday.

The No 3 typhoon signal came into force at 4.40am, but the chance of forecasters issuing a higher typhoon signal was relatively low, the Observatory added.

At 10am, Tropical Storm Lionrock was estimated to be about 630km southwest of Hong Kong, with the storm forecast to move north at about 10km/h towards the vicinity of Hainan Island.

"A storm surge induced by Lionrock and heavy rain may lead to flooding in low-lying areas tonight," it added. "Members of the public should be on the alert, and take precautions against strong winds and flooding."

The severe weather caused widespread disruption across the city. Flooding was reported in districts including Causeway Bay, Tsuen Wan, Quarry Bay and Chai Wan. Several major roads were badly affected, including a key westbound section of King's Road outside Quarry Bay MTR station.

The Hong Kong Examinations and Assessment Authority said the ACT college entrance exam slated for Friday afternoon would be postponed. Court hearings were suspended, with those affected to resume on October 11.

Many parents took to social media to criticise the Observatory and Education Bureau for only shutting down kindergarten classes, leaving the rest of the pupil population exposed to the harsh weather.

At 11.20pm on Thursday, the observatory issued an amber rainstorm warning, which means heavy rain has fallen or is expected to fall across the city at a rate exceeding 30mm in an hour.

Strong winds and heavy rain were also likely to put a damper on the weekend, the Observatory said, although residents would get a reprieve from the heat with temperatures falling to between 26 and 29 degrees Celsius.

"The tropical depression currently hovering at more than 600km south-southwest of Hong Kong will intensify gradually and will begin to take a more northerly track [on Friday], moving towards the vicinity of Hainan Island gradually," the Observatory said.

It added the storm would be moving closer to the coast of Guangdong province than previously expected, bringing heavy rain, squalls and rough seas through Sunday.

The Observatory urged residents to take note of the weather before heading out on Friday morning, and to stay away from the shoreline and avoid water sports as the sea would be very choppy.

The typhoon signal was the fourth this year, and the third No 3 warning.

Typhoon Chanthu, which charted a course for Shanghai, Japan and South Korea last month, did not bring wet weather to Hong Kong, but its effects were still felt in the city.

Under the influence of its outer subsiding air, Hong Kong experienced the hottest September since records started in 1884, the Observatory said on Tuesday, with a monthly mean maximum temperature of 32.8 degrees, 2.7 degrees higher than the 1981 to 2010 normal.

Additional reporting by Kathleen Magramo and Zoe Low