Thu, Aug 13, 2009 - Page 1 News List

MORAKOT: THE AFTERMATH: More people rescued, but complaints rise

By Meggie Lu  /  STAFF REPORTER, WITH AGENCIES

Residents of Chinfong Township, Taitung County, pick their way through driftwood along the dry Taimali River yesterday on their way back home.

PHOTO: LIU JONG, TAIPEI TIMES

With the clock ticking and many more people trapped in mountainous villages, rescuers continued their effort to find survivors.

Amid the stories of death and losses came the news of the rescue late on Tuesday night of some 700 survivors who had been reported missing — 200 people from Xiaolin Village (小林) in Kaohsiung County's Jiaxian Township (甲仙), 300 from Namasia Township's (那瑪夏) Minzu Village (民族) and 200 from Namasia's Minsheng Village (民生). Yesterday morning, 300 more survivors were found in Namasia's Minchuan Village (民權), 200 in Taoyuan Township's (桃源) Chinhe Village (勤和) and 70 more from Xiaolin.

“The village chief of Chinhe Village evacuated all 200-odd villagers from their homes to the village sports complex on Saturday,” Hu Jui-chou (胡瑞舟), director of political warfare at the Army Command Headquarters' 8th Army Corps, told a press conference.

“When they were found, the survivors were picking wild vegetables and were glad that the soldiers had found them earlier than they expected amidst the severe disaster,” he said.

Hu said the villagers were fine and had sufficient air-dropped food and water.

However, even with almost 300 survivors found, Xiaolin, the hardest hit village, which has been completely wiped out and lies buried under mudslides, still has more than 300 residents missing.

Army helicopters were ferrying survivors to safety in Cishan (旗山), the hardscrabble town in Kaohsiung County that is serving as a focal point for relief operations.

“So long as weather permits, the military aircraft will fly up to 136 sorties today to evacuate all stranded typhoon victims,” Hu said.

However, heavy rains were obstructing rescue operations and by early afternoon, only a few dozen flights had arrived at the makeshift landing zone at Cishan Junior High School.

People who have been evacuated to Jiaxian's Cishan Junior High School bawled in despair and pleaded for the army to go into their village to save their families.

“Xiaolin Village is gone. People are still buried under the mud, please save them,” a survivor surnamed Huang (黃) said.

Another survivor, Pan Hsiu-min (潘秀敏) was near physical collapse when she learned that none of the 40 members in her extended family had been found.

“They are my family, somebody go in and save them. Where is family?” Pan said.

Some anxious and angry survivors decried the government's delayed reaction and slow progress in rescuing victims.

“We have a retarded government,” a banner said.

Luo Shun-chi, 36, who escaped from Xiaolin shortly after Sunday's mudslide, told The Associated Press he did not know how many of his fellow villagers were still alive.

He said that between 500 and 600 people were in Xiaolin at the time of the disaster — far fewer than the 1,300 people listed in the nation's population registry.

Luo said that whatever the death toll was in Xiaolin, he was never going back.

“The place is finished,” he said. “There is no way I could return.”

The Directorate General of Highways said yesterday its target was to have Provincial Highway No. 21 at Jiaxian Township opened today, which would allow rescuers easier access to victims in Xiaolin and Namasia villages.

In Taitung, a volunteer rescuer nearly drowned yesterday when he was trying to cross Taimali River (太麻里溪) to reach victims in Dawu Township (大武).

The rescue team tried to cross the river by hooking a rubber boat to a suspension rope. The raging torrent proved too much for the rope, which snapped. The boat then flipped, tossing the rescuer into the river. He was pulled from the river by his teammates and the boat was later recovered after it became caught in debris.

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