The Central Emergency Operation Center (CEOC) yesterday confirmed the 13th death from Typhoon Megi, which triggered mudslides that destroyed large sections of the Suhua Highway in Yilan County last week, and confirmed that 25 people remained unaccounted for.
The victim was a woman whom relatives identified as a teacher at a school for handicapped children. The discovery was made at section 112.8km of the highway.
Rescue teams from across the country continued their search for missing people who were traveling on the highway when severe mudslides and rockslides hit the section they were on.
PHOTO: PATRICK LIN, AFP
Among the missing was a 21-member tour group that included 19 Chinese, their Taiwanese guide, Tseng Ching-hua (曾慶華), and Taiwanese driver, Kuo Ming-lin (郭銘麟). The bus was likely traveling on the highway when heavy rain and rockslides caused a section to collapse.
Tsai Chih-ming (蔡智明), a Taiwanese driver, and Tian Yuan (田園), a Chinese tour group leader from another bus belonging to Hong Tai Tour Agency (弘泰旅行社), were also missing. Parts of their tour bus were found buried beneath debris, but there were no signs of the driver and the tour guide, raising hopes that they managed to escape as the vehicle tumbled into the valley.
The 19 tourists from China on board the second bus made it out just before the bus fell into the valley.
Approached by media, four injured Chinese tourists from the Hong Tai Tour Agency bus told reporters that Tsai and Tian took good care of them while they were trapped inside the bus.
“They [Tsai and Tian] were also hungry, but they gave the food to us,” one of the hospitalized tourists said.
Yang Changfu (楊長福), another hospitalized tourist, said: “Tsai and Tian could not get out of the bus in time because they let us go first.”
He said they tried to pull Tsai and Tian out of the bus before it fell off the cliff, but could not manage it.
Rescuers had also yet to locate three individuals who were traveling in two cars. The CEOC said the cars were relatively intact, but the drivers and passengers were missing.
Meanwhile, the center said it had identified the body of a woman found afloat in the Suao military harbor as Cheng Chia-hua (鄭家樺), a clerk at a local convenience store who left work to check the condition of her house, but was apparently washed away by floodwater.
The Yilan County Government yesterday called on the public for donations to help flood victims. Several non-governmental -organizations such as the Buddhist Compassionate Relief Tzu Chi Foundation and World Vision Taiwan have dispatched volunteers to help with the massive clean-up.
A weakening Megi made landfall in China on Saturday afternoon, where meteorologists yesterday downgraded it to a tropical depression as it dumped torrential rain over coastal provinces.
Meanwhile, Premier Wu Den-yih (吳敦義) said the government would not begin construction of an alternative route to the seriously damaged Suhua Highway until the government has listened to opinions from all sectors, although the development plan has passed its environmental impact review.
Presiding over a Cabinet meeting on the disaster, Wu said the plan was expected to pass an environmental review by the end of the year, with construction to be completed by 2016.
“In the meantime, the Ministry of Transportation and Communications should improve conditions on the highway as well as its land and rainfall monitoring equipment,” he said.
Wu said the government had also requested that the Taiwan Railway Administration increase the number of trains to and from eastern Taiwan to accommodate passengers and mitigate the disruptions caused by the highway disaster.
Hualien hotel operators yesterday expressed grave concern about the outlook for tourism in the region after the closure of the highway. The occupancy rates of hotels in Hualien are normally maintained at more than 80 percent, but the rates have plunged since the storm. The manager of one hotel, identified only by his surname Hu, said he originally had full occupancy for Saturday, but the rate fell to only half after the road closed.
Hu said the impact on business guests was not too bad, but added that the impact on bookings by domestic tourists and groups, as well as Chinese tourists, was serious, and that “the follow-up negative effect is building.”
A manager of another hotel, which mainly caters to Chinese tourist groups, said the occupancy rate also dropped immediately after the incident.
Wu also dismissed reports that the CEOC had delayed passing information about the highway to the Yilan County Government.
Wu said government chiefs across party lines should all join hands to minimize losses and conduct disaster relief operations, adding that the torrential rain brought by typhoons last year and this year, and signs such occurrences could become more frequent showed the need for a disaster warning system.
Additional reporting by Flora Wang, AFP and CNA
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