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Thu, Sep 23, 1999 - Page 3 News List

Rescue teams enter Puli, a town destroyed

SHATTERED LIVESThe town of Puli in Nantou County has been cut off from the outside world since Tuesday's earthquake. When rescue teams finally made it in by helicopter yesterday, what they found was a scene of devastation far beyond what they had expected

By William Ide  /  STAFF REPORTER IN PULI , AND AGENCIES

Members of a family in Puli sit in shock at the entrance of their partially destroyed home, waiting out the continuing aftershocks outside.

PHOTO: LIN CHENG-KUNG, LIBERTY TIMES

As the dust settled in Puli from the worst earthquake in Taiwan this century, the town's many dispossessed residents are slowly coming to terms with the difficult future that awaits them.

Families camped outside their broken and destroyed homes have to deal with not only the fear, shock and trauma from the earthquake, but also the powerful aftershocks that continue to shake the ground around them.

Most have set up camps in open-air spaces, scattered throughout the town, in parks and in schools.

There is really no other place for them to go where they can feel safe, said Liao Yu-chen.

Liao was sitting in the playground of Puli's elementary school yesterday, surrounded by scores of other families facing a similar plight.

"When the quake hit, it felt like the end of the world," Liao said, describing her feelings on the night the earthquake destroyed the town.

Luckily, she was able to get her family out of their home, which split nearly in two.

Now Liao, like many others, is stuck. She cannot return to her destroyed home, but is frightened to leave Puli.

"The roads are terrible -- I wouldn't go anywhere," she said. "Not only that, but aftershocks are a concern."

Just yesterday morning, Liao returned to her home to retrieve a gas cooker. But as she did, an aftershock hit again.

But yesterday, for thousands like Liao, there was a glimmer of hope. Rescue helicopters came and went several by the hour, bringing in food and water and taking away the injured.

Premier Vincent Siew (蕭萬長) flew in yesterday to survey the damage in the town, which is isolated and difficult to get to after a bridge on the main road linking it with the outside world was destroyed.

They soon discovered that the damage in Puli is much more serious than the government initially estimated.

"It wasn't until 30 hours after the earthquake that we realized the extent of damage that had been sustained," said government spokesman Chen Chien-jen while visiting Puli.

"We were prepared, but in retrospect there was more that could have been done."

He said the government was now focusing on three immediate goals -- an urgent need to handle the bodies of those who lost their lives, shelter and tents for survivors who lost their homes, and for roads to be cleared of debris.

The government has also announced a relief budget of NT$3 billion -- as well as NT$1billion in immediate aid for Nantou, and another NT$1.5 billion for Taichung County.

Chen also said the government would be looking into the structural integrity of the affected buildings to find out why they had collapsed so easily.

Some buildings, he said, were not up to standards, pointing to the fact that many newer buildings had been destroyed.

"Those responsible should be investigated," he said.

At the Taichung veteran's hospital ambulances streamed in, bringing injured people lifted by helicopter from Puli.

A 32-year-old woman, her head wrapped in bandages, said she was in the town of Chongshi when the earthquake struck and the ceiling fell on her.

She was trapped for an hour before being rescued, but had to endure a 10-hour wait before she was taken to a hospital. She said her husband was suffering from exposure

The hospital, a mess on Tuesday as it struggled with the stream of patients, was operating normally yesterday but was packed with the injured.

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