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Hundreds Still Missing From Taiwan Mudslide

Date: 13-Aug-09
Country: TAIWAN
Author: Ralph Jennings

Hundreds Still Missing From Taiwan Mudslide Photo: Taiwan Military News Agency Handout
A handout from the Taiwan Military News Agency shows soldiers carrying supplies while walking to the flooded village of Liugui following Typhoon Morakot in Kaohsiung county, southern Taiwan.
Photo: Taiwan Military News Agency Handout

CISHAN, Taiwan - Hundreds of people were still missing on Wednesday in remote villages in southern Taiwan and disaster officials said they were uncertain how many might have been killed by mudslides triggered by Typhoon Morakot.

Morakot, which ravaged Taiwan over the weekend, has killed about 70 people across the island and caused farm-related losses of more than T$9 billion ($275 million). More than 100 people have been killed in Asia due to Morakot and tropical storm Etau.

But several hundred villagers initially listed as missing were found alive in areas where roads were washed out and access was limited to helicopters. The government dispatched special forces with satellite phones to the hardest hit areas.

"We are anxious to do our best to get the trapped people out," said Hu Jui-chou, an army official involved in the rescue effort. "Hopes are getting slimmer as the days go by."

Hu said it was unclear how many people were buried and feared dead in villages in southern Taiwan.

More than 200 residents of Hsiao Lin village in Kaohsiung county were found safe. But officials said it was uncertain how many of the 1,000 registered residents were present when the mudslide struck.

Hundreds more were found alive in other villages. Survivors said they clambered to higher ground before walls of mud and rock engulfed their homes.

"I have to say I feel pretty good to be alive," said Lin Dong-wen, 45, from the village of Namahsia, sitting in front of a pile of medicine after being hoisted away by a rescue helicopter.

"If I had been left there any longer, I wouldn't have made it. I saw the mudslide coming," said Lin after arriving in Cishan, hub of rescue efforts.

"It was really huge, and I passed out. When I awoke, there was mud all over and I climbed out of it."

Helicopters dropped food and supplies to survivors who had scrambled up hillsides. Other rescue teams piloted rubber dinghies through raging muddy rivers.

Torrential rains from the typhoon had triggered landslides that wiped out villages and sent low-rise buildings crashing down river banks. Roads and bridges were destroyed.

Clusters of anxious relatives awaited the arrival of helicopter flights at the makeshift rescue base.

Some survivors tried to call relatives on mobile phones.

"Right after the mudslide, we managed to get in touch with our family members through mobile phones and text messages," said a 41-year-old teacher awaiting news at the rescue hub. "But later they switched off their phones to save power."

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