President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) yesterday defended his comments on Taipei City Government’s handling of flooding during the typhoon season, insisting that the flooding of MRT stations in Taipei during Typhoon Nari in 2001 unexpectedly prevented the city from suffering more serious damage.
“Many countries have built water conservancy infrastructure in non-traditional locations, such as in parks or low-lying areas. Of course, we did not design the MRT stations to be used for flood detention. It is just an example of flood detention pools in urban areas effectively preventing flooding,” he said when meeting reporters at the Presidential Office.
Ma’s comments came amid criticism of his previous remarks on the issue. While presiding over a Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Central Standing Committee meeting on Wednesday, he listened to the Ministry of the Interior’s report on the government’s handling of flooding in the wake of Tropical Storm Trami.
As Taipei mayor at the time, Ma shared the responsibility for the Taipei City Government’s handling of flooding when Nari hit Taiwan in 2001 and said while major construction sites were flooded, the MRT stations prevented the city suffering more serious flooding.
“Taipei Railway Station, MRT stations and construction sites were all flooded during Typhoon Nari. It was a serious disaster for the city and it took months to clean up. However, the flooding in Xinyi District (信義) was not as bad as we thought because MRT stations accidentally played a role as flood detention pools,” he said in the meeting.
Ma’s description of MRT stations as flood detention pools in the wake of Typhoon Nari drew criticism, with the Chinese-language Apple Daily running a story with the headline “Serious flooding in the wake of Typhoon Nari. Ma: Lucky to have MRT stations as flood detention pools.”
Ma said he was not indifferent to serious flooding in the city and said the government would devote more effort to flood prevention measures.
“Some people might interpret my comments in a negative way and think I was indifferent by describing MRT stations as flood detention pools. That’s not what I meant,” he said.
After cities in the south suffered serious flooding in the wake of Trami, the Executive Yuan said it would examine flood prevention infrastructure around the nation before determining whether to invest NT$60 billion (US$2 billion) to build more facilities.
Ma said he supported the Executive Yuan’s plan and said that with weather conditions getting more extreme around the world, the government would take other nations’ experiences into consideration when building flood detention facilities, while continuing soil conservation work.
The KMT yesterday also blamed the Apple Daily for distorting Ma’s comments and said that Ma meant to instruct the related government agencies to enhance flood prevention facilities in urban areas.
Unconvinced, Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) lawmakers lambasted Ma for his remarks, which they said described city residents’ plight as a success of his administration.
What happened in Taipei in 2001, which resulted in 26 deaths, serious flooding in half of the downtown area and in adjacent New Taipei City, then known as Taipei County, has been described as one of the worst examples of disaster preparation and relief in history, DPP Legislator Huang Wei-che (黃偉哲) said.
“Ma at the time apologized to residents, but now he’s describing it as an achievement. It’s unbelievable,” Huang said.
Additional reporting by Chris Wang