Excavators removing tonnes of rubble from the Formosa Freeway (Freeway No. 3) following Sunday’s massive landslide yesterday found a license plate and a taillight belonging to one of the cars reported missing.
The mangled license plate, 4888-VF, was found at 11:47am on the northbound lanes of the freeway.
The plate was identified as belonging to a Mercedes-Benz driven by 34-year-old Kuo Wen-han (郭文漢), who was traveling with his 32-year-old girlfriend Lee Shih-ying (李姉霙) when the landslide occurred.
Rescuers used detectors to locate the missing couple near the site of the discovery, but without success.
Vice Minister of Transportation and Communications Yeh Kuang-shih (葉匡時) said the cause of the landslide was “very complicated.”
It will take some time before the ministry identifies the exact reasons leading to the incident, he said.
“Some researchers and experts have looked at photos and said what they thought the reasons might be,” Yeh said. “But this is merely their own speculation.”
Yeh said the Ministry of Transportation and Communications has entrusted Professor Liao Hung-jiun (廖洪鈞) of the Taiwan Geological Society to form a special taskforce to investigate the cause of the landslide.
Chen Yen-po (陳彥伯), deputy director general of the Department of Highways and Railways, said the taskforce would include geology and civil engineering experts as well as from other fields.
“The taskforce’s main tasks will be to evaluate the risks posed by dip slopes along national freeways and to evaluate the safety of Freeway No. 3 before it reopens,” Chen said.
He said the taskforce would also be asked to investigate the cause of the landslide. The experts will review maintenance procedures and construction methods and make suggestions, Chen said.
Reacting to speculation that rusty ground anchors may have caused the landslide, Chang Chung-ching (張純青), deputy director-general of the National Expressway Engineering Bureau, said ground anchors that had been recovered did not appear to be rusty.
Meanwhile, Minister of Transportation and Communications Mao Chi-kuo (毛治國) was criticized yesterday for “not sympathizing” with the victims’ families after he was reported to have said that freezers were now ready to store the dead.
Yeh said the minister was informed by Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Hsieh Kuo-liang (謝國樑) that some people were trying to help by offering freezers, and the minister misinterpreted the message and thought the freezers were now available for the victims. Yeh apologized to victims’ families on behalf of Mao.
“We will not give up any hope of finding the victims,” Yeh said.
KMT Legislator Lo Shu-lei (羅淑蕾) said the minister was simply saying he was fully prepared for the worst.
In related news, the Taipei City Government yesterday promised to conduct regular inspections on houses built on slopes and said it would consider revising municipal regulations to make information on such houses available to the public.
Statistics from Taipei City’s Geotechnical Engineering Office showed there are more than 20,000 slopes in Taipei City, on which 135 apartment complexes are built. Of the apartment complexes, 30 are built on dip slopes.
The office’s chief engineer Huang Li-yuan (黃立遠) said it had inspected the complexes earlier this month and found no observable problems.
Huang said the office will conduct inspections every one or two months to ensure the safety of residents, and will install monitoring equipment on dip slopes where apartment complexes are located to predict any geological changes.
Residents who are concerned about the issue can obtain information on the Web site at gisweb.ed.taipei.gov.tw/gisweb /map/index.htm by leaving their address, he said. The inquiry system contains databases on slopes, dip slopes, faults, erosion and landslide-prone areas in the city.
Chen Hsiung-wen (陳雄文), commissioner of Taipei City’s Department of Economic Development, said government agencies have no authority to make public the exact location of the apartment complexes due to current regulations, but added that the public can take advantage of the inquiry system to find out whether their residences are at risk.
The government has been accused of refusing to make public information about residences built on dangerous slopes to protect construction companies. Some legislators proposed a geology law 10 years ago after the 921 Earthquake to force the government to make such information public but without success.
Taipei Mayor Hau Lung-bin (郝龍斌) yesterday said the city government will consider revising municipal regulations, which would make it the first local government to release such information in the public domain.
“We cannot make public the information on the geological situation of any individual apartment or house, but the city government will protect residents’ safety,” he said.
Huang said residents can call the Taipei Citizen Hotline at 1999 with questions related to the geological situation of their homes.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY FLORA WANG
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