Wed, Aug 12, 2009 - Page 1 News List

Aid workers race against time, 700 found in Xiaolin

By Meggie Lu and Shelley Shan  /  STAFF REPORTERS, WITH AGENCIES

Rescue efforts continued yesterday as search teams raced against time looking for thousands of villagers trapped by mudslides caused by Typhoon Morakot.

As of press time, more than 400 victims had been rescued by the military yesterday, but hundreds of villagers were still waiting for help and at least 400 people were unaccounted for.

Kaohsiung County — in particular Jiaxian (甲仙), Liukuei (六龜) and Namasia (那瑪夏) townships — had the highest number of casualties, with dozens of bodies found yesterday and hundreds still missing at press time.

One search and rescue team walked along destroyed and flooded roads to Liukuei Township for several hours to rescue villagers and found 26 bodies lying among fallen rocks.

“Give us body bags. We must get the bodies out first,” Su Ting-kuo (蘇定國), head of the team, said on the cable channel CTi-TV.

Lee Chi-hsiung (李智雄), director of political warfare at the Army Command Headquarters, said a unit of 13 soldiers, who began making their way to Jiaxian Township's Xiaolin Village (小林) on Monday, reached the site of Xiaolin Elementary School before noon yesterday.

Late last night, the Central News Agency reported that around 700 people had been located in the area and that they had been supplied with food and water and that evacuations would start today.

Military forces began rescue work at the crack of dawn yesterday, sending the first helicopter into Xiaolin Village at 6:12am and a second one at 9:13am, along with 73 more Army Special Forces, the Central Disaster Emergency Operation Center said.

Although media and some survivors said they feared hundreds had been buried under the mudslide in Xiaolin Village, the center said that the Army Special Forces had not found signs of people under the rubble by late last night.

Before noon, the army had evacuated scores of victims by helicopter from Xiaolin Village, Namasia's Minzu Village (民族), Jiaxian Township and Taoyuan Township's (桃源) Chinhe Village (勤和), the military said.

At 8:30pm, Taoyuan Township Meishan Village (梅山) suffered another devastating blow when the bank of a barrier lake collapsed, aggravating the flood in the area.

Kaohsiung County issued an emergency evacuation order for residents living near Laonong River (荖濃溪).

Drawing from reports of soldiers who had arrived at the affected villages, the center said the impact of the disaster on the five hardest hit villages had become clearer.

The center said that the military had air-dropped about 1.3 tonnes of supplies to the stranded victims in Xiaolin Village.

About 30 people were trapped atop Hsi-an Mountain (錫安), upstream from Xiaolin Village, the center said.

As the residents said their houses were still intact, they only asked that the military air-drop them food and supplies, the center said.

Further upstream in Namasia Township, about 100 people were trapped in Minzu Village, 100 in Namasia Village, 50 in Minchuan Village and 20 in Minsheng Village, the center said.

Although the military had been evacuating victims via helicopter from Xiaolin — which has the highest number of victims — since morning, clashes broke out between heartbroken and anxious survivors and the army, with several men trying to break through the military lines to get back onto the helicopters.

“I want to go back and find my family,” one man said.

The military later agreed to allow three men to return to their villages to rescue their families.

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