Rescuers dispatched by helicopter and ship rappelled down a rocky escarpment yesterday hoping to find 21 Chinese tourists whose bus is believed to have tumbled off the narrow Suhua Highway in Yilan County last Thursday as Typhoon Megi neared Taiwan.
Rescue officials said they have found body parts in the area, but no definitive identifications had yet been made. Debris from the bus found along the escarpment suggests that the vehicle might have fallen off the road and into the sea more than 300m below.
Military personnel continued looking for survivors or bodies on land, in the ocean and by air.
Relatives of the missing tourists have accused a Taiwanese travel agency, Taipei-based Chuang Yi Travel, of failing to take precautions as Megi struck. A Chuang Yi spokesman was not immediately available for comment.
At least 13 people have been confirmed dead in Taiwan from the typhoon, including nine buried alive when a mudslide covered a Buddhist temple in Yilan County, which sustained a record-setting 114cm of rain. Twenty-five others remain missing.
Hundreds of volunteers from the Buddhist Compassion Relief Tzu Chi Foundation were dispatched yesterday to help flood victims.
The eight-hundred members of the Buddhist charity, including doctors, teachers and retired policemen, followed another 1,200 volunteers who were sent to Nanfangao (南方澳) in Yilan a day earlier.
Traveling at their own expense, the volunteers brought cleaning equipment and medical supplies to help residents repair their homes and provide medical services.
Meanwhile, Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) lawmakers accused the central government of failing to act fast enough in response to Megi’s record-breaking downpours.
The government failed to close the roads and bridges quickly enough, DPP Legislator Pan Meng-an (潘孟安) said. Public furor over the dangerous roads, he said, should increase pressure for the government to build a more comprehensive rail network in the area.
The rail plan was outlined in the proposed eastern development act (東部發展條例), a controversial proposal announced by the DPP last year. The recent problems with the existing road infrastructure should spur Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) lawmakers into backing the DPP agenda, Pan said.
“For the last year, the DPP proposal has languished under the KMT [in the legislature]. It is regrettable that it hasn’t even been included on the legislative agenda,” he said.
However, KMT Legislator Lin Tsang-min (林滄敏) said the DPP should take the blame, since the project was postponed during former president Chen Shui-bian’s (陳水扁) administration. Only now was the government working to make it happen, he said.
“The DPP cannot finish it, so the KMT will complete it,” Lin said, adding that the project would give Hualien and Taitung county residents “a safe route home.”
Minister of the Interior Jiang Yi-huah (江宜樺) declined to say whether the families of Chinese tourists killed in the disaster would receive compensation based on the National Compensation Act (國家賠償法). Whether Chinese families could file for state compensation was a matter for the Ministry of Transportation and Communications to decide, he told a legislative committee convened to discuss the Suhua disaster.
The interior ministry would pay NT$1 million (US$32,600) in compensation to each Taiwanese victim of Megi, following the precedent set after Typhoon Morakot in August last year.