Hsinchu County Commissioner Cheng Yung-chin (鄭永金), under pressure from the central government and families of victims of Typhoon Aere, yesterday authorized a team to travel to the crippled Tuchang community in Wufeng Township and search for the bodies of 12 people feared buried in a mudslide six days ago.
Since Wednesday last week, when a devastating mudslide triggered by heavy rain destroyed 24 homes in the Atayal Aboriginal community, Cheng has been criticized for alleged delays in evacuating Tuchang and other communities in mountainous areas. Twelve people remained missing in the area yesterday, including three policemen who were attempting to evacuate the village.
"Some roads have been repaired. We will do our best to dig up the place where the missing people are most likely buried," Cheng said yesterday.
Thirteen special rescue personnel, 14 firemen, seven machinery operators and police will sift through the rubble, he said.
A similar task will be carried out in neighboring Chingchuan, which was also affected by mudflows and landslides.
Seven small earth movers were taken by helicopter to Chingchuan yesterday. However, damaged roads made it difficult for them to travel to Tuchang, apparently inaccessible by helicopter.
Chung Chin-liang (鍾進亮), head of the private Hsinchu Rescue Association, and volunteer rescuers arrived in Tuchang yesterday morning. Chung told the Taipei Times immediately after leaving the scene that the digging was not proceeding satisfactorily.
"How can we deal with all of the debris and gravel? There's only one earth mover digging there," he said.
Chung said he had contacted the county's fire department, which promised to call for more volunteer operators for the earth movers.
Yesterday afternoon, a police car used by the missing police officers was found. Police vests, tents, raincoats and sleeping bags were also found in the debris, county officials said.
According to Hsinchu County's disaster and response center, 19 residents in Wufeng and 219 residents in Chienshih Township to the north are yet to be evacuated.
Low-flying helicopters yesterday continued an intensive search for people still cut off in mountainous areas. Elsewhere in Wufeng, there were reports of a body floating down a river, but it was apparently not recovered.
Cheng said yesterday that NT$150 million has been allocated by the Cabinet for affected areas in the county. The local government said it also had NT$30 million spare for the two townships in its disaster-relief funds.
President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) yesterday inspected disaster areas in Wufeng and Chienshih townships and expressed condolences over the deaths.
Chen also demanded that survivors of the tragedy be provided with more efficient service.
"Food is the most important thing of all. Local governments should ensure that people in isolated townships do not go hungry," he said.
Chen also inspected Sungho Village in Taichung County's Hoping Township and Hsinyi Township in Nantou County, which have been hard-hit by typhoon activity since early last month.
Chen said that the government had not given up on reconstruction of central Taiwan, but it remained unclear if the damaged Central Cross-Island Highway would be rebuilt.
"We have to stop for a while and make an objective evaluation of the geological situation," Chen said.