Taiwan is gradually digging its way out of its worst disaster in recent memory. With the death toll approaching 2,000, yesterday's earthquake has delivered a stunning blow. Almost the entire population of the country was startled awake by the quake itself, and their anxiety turned to shock as reports of the extent of the damage began to come in. Many Taiwanese have a relative or friend who has been killed, injured or made homeless.
Our sympathies go out to all the victims and their families in their hour of grief and need. It is our earnest hope that they may find physical and spiritual relief in the shortest possible time.
The deepest impression the earthquake has left, at least in the immediate aftermath, has been the way in which people throughout the island have pulled together in response to the calamity. Despite continuous aftershocks and widespread power outages, there has been no chaos, and little panic, even as many families moved outside for the night for fear of further shocks. To give one superficial example, Taiwan's notorious drivers responded to the absence of traffic lights and overstretched police not by running amok on the streets, but by adopting extra caution and patience, thereby averting a wave of accidents. As morning broke, innumerable small businessmen worked quickly to restore markets and food stalls, so that people could feed themselves. In short, the tragedy has demonstrated the fundamental strength and maturity of Taiwanese society in the face of crisis.
This underlying solidarity and industry has been clearly reflected in the response of the authorities, which has, so far, been commendable. Police, fire and rescue services, joined by the military and large numbers of neighborhood volunteers, got to work swiftly to save trapped and injured people and extinguish fires resulting from broken gas mains. Their prompt efforts undoubtedly saved many lives.
Taiwan's political leaders, at both the central and local levels, and from all parties, have also displayed appropriate activity and sensitivity. Their words and deeds mark a refreshing change from the vicious backbiting that has become par for the presidential election course. We hope that the government will continue to cooperate this effectively, so as to meet the very serious needs of the people at this time. The first priority, after the search and rescue operations, must be to provide basic necessities for the wounded and the homeless. Of course, civil society organizations have an important role to play in this effort, but the scale of the disaster requires the government to take the lead in coordinating and setting priorities.
The expressions of concern from the international community, and especially the offers of rapid assistance from the US, Japan, and other countries are gratifying. The additional specialized rescue teams, technicians and engineers will surely be of tremendous assistance in locating the remaining missing people, and in kick-starting the general cleanup process. While welcoming this assistance, we must also remember, in the future, to step up our humanitarian assistance efforts to other countries in good times. One never knows when one's generosity will be repaid, or by whom.
During the period of cleanup and reconstruction, we hope that all Taiwanese people can continue to build on the foundation that has been laid on the first day. The creation of a model for national participation and cooperation would be the best gift this tragedy can bestow, and the best way its victims can be honored.