Sun, Aug 05, 2001 - Page 1 News List

Villagers decry late rescue efforts

TYPHOON AFTERMATH The village of Dili was hit hard by Typhoon Toraji and villagers complain that rescuers were arriving too late to help search for the 16 who are missing

By Chuang Chi-ting  /  STAFF REPORTER , IN DILI VILLAGE, NANTOU COUNTY

Inhabitants of Nantou County's Dili village make their way over a rock-covered road yesterday. Mudslides caused by Typhoon Toraji killed 16 villagers and cut the village off from the outside world.

PHOTO: CHEN CHENG-CHANG, TAIPEI TIMES

Six days after Typhoon Toraji hit their village, residents of Dili (地利) in Nantou County are still searching for 16 villagers buried alive in mudslides and trying desperately to piece together their shattered lives.

When rescue workers arrived yesterday, this time to stay and help out, the residents had more complaints to offer than thanks.

"Don't ignore the Aboriginal people," said Tolbuz Ishibabanun, complaining about the untimely arrival of rescue efforts.

As bulldozers and rescue squads arrived in the village, Tolbuz lamented that Vugan Balalav, his 53-year-old mother, has yet to be found.

"The local government could have sent the bulldozers in earlier," said Wusong Ishibabanun, Tolbuz's brother. "Rescuers entered before but, because it was impossible to remove the giant rocks piled up at Dili's entrance without construction machinery, they left immediately by helicopter" explained another villager.

Dili, in Hsinyi township, is nestled at the fork of two major rivers, the Chuoshui (濁水溪) and the Chenyolan (陳友蘭溪). Most of the residents in this village of nearly 600 residents are Bunun Aboriginals.

Mudslides from mountains at both sides of the village swept into the Chuoshui, wiping away 30 houses and burying 16 villagers on the night Typhoon Toraji hit. Four more villagers who live at the upper part of the valley were also confirmed to be missing yesterday.

In the wake of Toraji, the nationwide death toll climbed to 91 yesterday, with 133 people still missing.

Unable to wait, the Ishibabanun family, like many others, has had to climb up and down among the rocks, looking for their loved one's clothing and marking spots where they believe they could be found.

Tolbuz's legs were swollen because of inflammation caused by the use of unsanitary shower water from the mountains on wounds he got while searching among rocks.

"We haven't found her and feel that she is still with us," Wusong said of his mother. "We won't feel at ease until we find her. But after so many days, her face probably has become unrecognizable."

President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) has visited the village twice since the disaster, including a trip yesterday.

"His visit does little to help. It's not Chen that takes care of all the assistance and reconstruction matters," Tolbuz said.

He and his brothers criticized the county's commissioner Peng Pai-hsien (彭百顯) as having failed to truly commit himself to helping the victims.

"He did come over. But he did nothing but criticize the central government, while we need practical strategies for help," said Wusong.

"We don't care at all about the political scheming he talked about here," said Tolbuz.

Peng, who was trapped at a local resort hotel on a "spiritual reconstruction trip" when the typhoon pounded the county, called criticism of his earlier absence in the disaster areas as "motivated by political struggle."

Villagers said they have no choice but to use the water from the mountains although it can carry harmful bacteria. Water and electricity and telephone services have remained unavailable to the village.

Abis Ishibabanun said the villagers are forgotten because they live in very remote areas.

Ibi Ishibabanun, anther brother who could not access the village until Wednesday, said the county government failed to provide services and instructions to direct them to help.

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