Bodies discovered floating off north coast

By Loa Iok-sin  /  STAFF REPORTER

Mon, Aug 24, 2009 - Page 1

While rescuers in Nantou County struggle to find the bodies of 15 people who were swept to their deaths when Typhoon Morakot hit the country, several bodies suspected to be among the victims have been discovered floating in the sea off northern Taiwan.

Early on the morning of Aug. 9, people in seven cars fell into the Chuoshuei River (濁水溪) in Nantou County when raging water from the torrential rain eroded the riverbank alongside Highway 16.

Nantou firefighters and rescuers only found six bodies and the wreckage of six cars on the riverbed after the water receded near Dacheng Township (大城) in neighboring Changhua County where the river flows into the sea.

As many as six bodies, however, have been discovered floating off the shores of northern Taiwan in recent days and police suspect they could be the bodies of the Nantou victims.

Police sources said that a body discovered in the sea about 20km off Yilan County on Wednesday was identified by Nantou victim Yeh Hsin-cheng’s (葉信承) wife.

Upon learning of the news, Yeh’s wife first checked a photo of the body at Jiji Township (集集) Police Headquarters and then went to Yilan on Saturday to confirm it was her husband’s body.

Although the face was unidentifiable, Yeh recognized tattoos of a tiger on the right arm, an eagle on the right thigh and a Japanese samurai on the left leg.

A Coast Guard officer said Yeh’s body had floated nearly 400km from where he fell into the water.

Coastal and Offshore Resources Research Center Director Wu Lung-ching (吳龍靜) said Yeh’s body could have been carried by the Kuroshio current that flows through the Taiwan Strait to the northeast coast.

Wu said the current, which comes from the south, divides into two, with one current flowing through the Taiwan Strait and the other along the Pacific coast.

Therefore, bodies floating along Taiwan’s western coast were very likely to end up on the northern or northeastern coast, Wu said.

Five other bodies — three male and two female — have been discovered in the sea off the coast of Bitoujiao (鼻頭角), Tamsui (淡水) and Yehliou (野柳) in Taipei County, as well as near Hsinchu and Keelung.

Family members of the Nantou victim Chang Hsiu-mei (張秀美) suspect that a body found near Bitoujiao could be Chang’s, but further confirmation is still required.

The corpse found floating near Tamsui yesterday was a female, about 40 years old and 160m tall. Police believe the body had been in the water since about Aug. 8 and could be the body of a Nantou victim.

Police authorities in Nantou said that they would collect DNA samples from the Nantou victims’ families so that it would be easier to confirm the identity of any bodies found in the future.