Sat, Oct 23, 2010 - Page 1 News List

Rescue teams toil as Megi takes its toll

DEADLY DROP:A tour bus carrying Chinese tourists was found after plunging 100m down a ravine when it was hit by falling rocks on the Suhua Highway

Staff Writer, with agencies

Rescuers check a section of the Suhua Highway in Yilan County yesterday after it was destroyed by landslides triggered by Typhoon Megi.


Difficult terrain and intense weather conditions hampered rescue efforts yesterday as ground forces and helicopters worked to rescue about 400 travelers trapped on the coastal Suhua Highway on Thursday by massive rockslides unleashed by the torrential rains of Typhoon Megi.

32 vehicles carrying 400 people were stranded between the 113km and 115km markers on the section of Suhua Highway between Yilan County’s Suao (蘇澳) and Dongao (東澳) townships following the landslides, said Minister of the Interior Jiang Yi-huah (江宜樺), who doubles as commander of the Central Emergency Operation Center (CEOC).

Twelve of the stranded vehicles were tour buses carrying 274 Chinese tourists, he said.

One of the vehicles was hit by a huge rock, local TV stations reported, but the 16 Chinese tourists inside escaped with no major injuries.

Authorities, however, confirmed that one tour bus carrying Chinese tourists was found after having tumbled 100m down a ravine at the 112.8km mark of the highway after being hit by a rockfall. The 19 Chinese nationals, a Taiwanese tour guide and a bus driver from Harula Tour Agency (創意旅行社) who were on the bus remained unaccounted for at press time.

Jiang also confirmed that another bus belonging to a different travel agency had fallen off the cliff into the sea.

“Vessels patrolling the Pacific coast found a bus washed down into the sea by a mudslide at the 134km location [of the Suhua Highway],” Jiang said. “Rescuers have confirmed that the tour bus belongs to Hong Tai Tour Agency (弘泰旅行社).”

Although all 19 passengers on board the bus made it out just in time, they told reporters that the Taiwanese bus driver and the Chinese tour guide did not make it out before the bus fell.

The National Airbone Service Corps yesterday morning attempted to launch several airlift missions from Hualien to try to deliver food and water to those who were stranded in their vehicles on the Suhua Highway, but all the missions had to be aborted because of poor visibility over Hualien.

Two S70 helicopters dispatched by the military from Taipei, carrying dried food and mineral water, managed to reach the 114km mark of the highway at around noon. A CH47 helicopter with a larger load capacity also made a flight yesterday afternoon to help evacuate those stranded, the Ministry of National Defense said.

Meanwhile, ground forces were sent to the 112km, 114km and 116km markers of the highway to deliver bread and dry food to the victims via line throwers. Insulin was also sent to two diabetics among the stranded people, the ministry said.

As of press time, 347 people had been airlifted to three hospitals in Yilan and Hualien counties.

Because of difficult terrain and harsh weather, many of the rescue team members were forced to enter the disaster zone on foot.

It was the worst damage ever sustained on the winding scenic route connecting Yilan and Hualien, the National Freeway Bureau said. Most of the rockslides occurred between the 112km and the 116km markers.

Jiang said the landslides also caused a 500m long section of the roadbed between the highway’s 115km and 116km markers to sink about 20m.

The Beijing-based Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait yesterday morning sent a letter to its Taiwanese counterpart, the Straits Exchange Foundation, to express concern for the Chinese nationals affected by the landslides on the highway.

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