Sat, Aug 15, 2009 - Page 1 News List

MORAKOT: THE AFTERMATH: Morakot toll may surpass 500: officials

BURIED ALIVE With more than 380 people missing in Xiaolin Village and feared dead, the scale of the crisis has overwhelmed ill-equipped authorities

By Loa Iok-sin, Mo Yan-chih and Shelley Shan  /  STAFF REPORTERS, WITH AGENCIES

Rescuers climb rocks beside a river at Meishan Village in Chiayi County yesterday.

PHOTO: PATRICK LIN, AFP

The death toll from Typhoon Morakot will pass 500, but the real figure might never be known, government officials said yesterday.

At a national security meeting yesterday — the first since the typhoon slammed southern Taiwan, wreaking havoc in mountainous regions — President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) said 380 people in Xiaolin Village (小林) were buried alive, while 7,000 were left homeless.

“With 117 confirmed deaths from the typhoon and 380 people feared to have been buried alive by mudslides in Xiaolin Village, Taiwan’s death toll could rise to more than 500,” Ma said at the Presidential Office.

“The situation is far more serious than the Aug. 7 flood that damaged Taiwan 50 years ago ... The government must take full responsibility [for the damage] and conquer all difficulties to finish the task,” he said.

The typhoon dumped more than 3m of rain, setting off flooding and mudslides that tore through houses and buildings, wiped away roads and destroyed bridges.

The scale of the crisis has overwhelmed authorities, which have been criticized for being too slow in realizing the magnitude of the crisis.

As anger over the government’s response mounted, Ma yesterday vowed to help victims.

“The government will overcome all obstacles in accomplishing this mission,” he said.

Ma blamed the Executive Yuan for failing to evacuate residents living in threatened villages earlier, and demanded that it present a comprehensive plan for the evacuation of residents in the event of future disasters.

Ma asked the Ministry of National Defense to deploy 10,000 more soldiers and police academy students to help with rescue and relief work in disaster-hit areas, and said that central and local governments should set up post-disaster committees to handle reconstruction work.

The disaster operation center should issue prompt and accurate information, and the Ministry of Economic Affairs should invest at least NT$3 billion (US$91 million) in the next two years for flood control measures, he said, while asking the government to provide transparent information and inform victims that they would be helped.

When asked by reporters for comment on the president’s refusal to initiate the national security mechanism sooner, Presidential Office Spokesman Wang Yu-chi (王郁琦) said that when Ma saw the number of deaths climbing on Thursday, he decided to convene all government bodies to discuss rescue work yesterday.

In Xiaolin Village, in Kaohsiung County’s Jiaxian Township (甲仙), as many as 169 households comprising 389 people were still unaccounted for yesterday and were feared buried under mud as deep as 15m.

To find out the exact number of people who may not have survived, the Jiaxian Township Office interviewed Xiaolin survivors and made a list of people who were in the village on Sunday, and checked it against the list of Xiaolin villagers who were rescued.

Many survivors, especially those who returned to Xiaolin, said that their families, friends and neighbors who did not make it out had no chance of survival.

Video clips broadcast by local TV news channels showed that except for two houses, most of the village had been flattened and covered by mud and rocks.

Some survivors went back to the site with incense sticks, canned drinks and food to pay respects to their loved ones.

“I don’t think it would help if we dug up the area, so I think we should just leave them [buried victims] where they are,” a Xiaolin survivor said in a video clip aired by SET-TV. “We can erect a monument here to commemorate them and we can come back here to pay our respects on special days.”

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