Mon, Jul 19, 2004 - Page 2 News List

Tourist town struggles to rebuild

REPEATED DISASTERS After the 1999 earthquake and flooding from two major storms, resort owners are struggling to rebuild their properties once again

By Jessie Ho  /  STAFF REPORTER IN KUKUAN

Storm cleanup work continues in Kukuan, Taichung County, as workers remove mud left by Tropical Storm Mindulle.

PHOTO: GEORGE TSORNG, TAIPEI TIMES

Walking in deserted streets lit only by a few streetlights on a summer evening, it is easy to imagine that one is in a remote and wild place. Yet this is exactly what Kukuan (谷關), formerly one of central Taiwan's most popular hot spring attractions, looks like now.

Located in Taichung County's Poai township and connected to the Central Cross-Island Highway, Kukuan has long been a famous attraction for travelers because of its two nearby forest resorts, Dragon Valley and Eight Immortals Mountain. Kukuan became an even more popular spot after residents developed the area's rich hot spring resources.

But over the past five years, Kukuan was devastated by a series of natural disasters -- the 921 Earthquake, Typhoon Toraji in 2001 and Tropical Storm Mindulle earlier this month.

This storm produced floodwaters and mudslides that severely damaged the tourism industry, especially in Nantou and Taichung counties. According to the Council of Agriculture, the worst damage occurred in mountainous regions such as Sungho and Lishan in Taichung County and Hsinyi and Jenai in Nantou County.

"I think hot spring lovers will come back as soon as the damaged roads are fully restored," said Liu Chia-chih (劉家熾), deputy general manager of Kukuan Hotel, a large hot spring hotel in Kukuan.

Summer is traditionally a peak season for Liu's business, and he said his hotel rooms were all booked until the recent storm struck the region.

The lack of consumer confidence has created a crisis for the town's main business.

Heavy rains brought by the storm flushed rocks and sand previously loosened by the earthquake down to the Tachia River that runs through the town.

Mudslides toppled more than 200 homes, or a third of the town's households, as well as damaging roads, bridges and other infrastructure such as power, water and phone lines, making the picturesque resort suddenly quiet.

A part of the town still has no fixed-line phone service, and seven out of 13 large hot spring hotels are gone.

The entire building housing the Kaha Hot Spring Hotel disappeared as the land where it stood sank into the water, and the Royal Hotel was half submerged in water.

Landslides also clogged hot spring pipelines, making operators draw water from hot spring wells before reconstruction is completed.

Even in such conditions, Liu said that Kukuan's hotels have drummed up promotional tactics, and he hopes the empty pools and hotels will be full again by the month's end.

To revitalize their business, Kukuan hotels began to provide discounts to tourists on July 17, cutting the prices by more than half from the original rates.

"Tourists need not be scared by the exaggerated media reports of the past two weeks," he said.

While large businesses hold onto their optimism, small home-hotel operators and residents who are still busy moving rocks and mud out of their tottering homes do not share such a positive outlook.

"It will take a while to win back people's confidence in this place," said the owner of a small lodge surnamed Lee. "Besides, who would want to spend holidays in a place where local residents are still living in debris?"

With candles in several corners for light, Lee's lodge was half-destroyed as floods and a mudslide wrecked its lower levels. Lee also runs a campsite on his back hill, but it is now occupied by stones and mud.

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