Mon, Jul 24, 2000 - Page 1 News List

Outrage over river tragedy

BlameThe opposition has attacked the government for their mishandling of the incident, while Premier Tang-fei has promised to compensate the families of the missing if the government is found to be negligent

By Jou Ying-cheng  /  STAFF REPORTER , WITH CNA

Residents and family members of four workers who were washed away in the Pachang River on Saturday protest at an air force base in Chiayi. The protesters were angry that the air force had not intervened to rescue the workers, who stood stranded in the river, which had flooded after heavy rains, for three hours before being swept away. The protest banner reads: "Airforce rescue team looks down on human life."

PHOTO: CHEN CHING-MIN, LIBERTY TIMES

Public outrage over the government's failure to rescue four workers washed away in Pachang Creek (八掌溪), Chiayi County, yesterday pushed Premier Tang Fei (唐飛) to make a public apology for the tragedy.

"On behalf of the government, I apologize to the people and society," Tang said during a news conference yesterday afternoon, saying that the government was still investigating and clarifying who was responsible and that the result would be out by this morning at the latest.

Four workers carrying out riverbed construction work in Pachang Creek were surrounded by the quickly rising torrent on Saturday afternoon. The four stood in the center of the river for three hours, waiting for a helicopter that never came, and were finally washed away at around 7:08pm in sight of family members and helpless would-be rescuers on the riverbank.

The body of one victim, Lin Chung-ho (林中和), male, 69, was retrieved downstream yesterday morning, while the other three victims -- Yang Tzu-chung (楊子忠), male, 47, Liu Chih (劉智), 42, and his wife Wu Mei-kuei (吳梅桂), 40 -- are still missing.

The sight of the four, two of them a couple, embracing each other and resisting the torrent was seen by the nation on television.

The family members and friends of the dead and disappeared yesterday protested against the Air Force base at their Chiayi base, for their not having dispatched a rescue helicopter.

Strong reaction also came from the main opposition parties.

"There is no difference between this kind of incompetent government and a murderer," PFP spokesman Sun Ta-chien (孫大千) said at a press conference yesterday.

The KMT said that the government is "slow in rescuing and swift in shifting responsibility."

Tang Fei, on the other hand, promised to severely punish those responsible and improve the rescue system.

"We will make an overall re-examination of related regulations and make immediate reforms to clarify responsibilities and establish a unified co-ordination mechanism. We will also seek the resolution of any inadequacy of staff or equipment. Top priority will be given to improving efficiency and saving people's lives," Tang said.

Though he said that an investigation of responsibility needed to be very carefully carried out, he hinted that the Fire Department of Chiayi County had made a wrong report in the first place.

"The Fire Department should have known that when the site of the incident is under the height of 2,500m the request (for a helicopter) should be made to the airborne police (rather than the Air Force), and this is a focus of our investigation," Tang said.

According to Chiayi County Fire Department, they requested help from the Air Force's Chiayi base at 5:55pm and turned to the air police at 6:20pm when their request was denied by the Air Force.

The Air Force at the time told the Fire Department that according to regulations it was the air police's job to carry out rescues in areas under the height of 2,500m.

But the nearest air police base was in Taichung, and when the helicopter took off at around 7:10pm, the victims had already been swept away, according to Chiayi Fire Department records.

Asked if such regulations might have hindered the rescue work, Tang Fei said that the division of tasks was necessary because the resources of any rescue unit are limited.

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