Thu, Aug 13, 2009 - Page 2 News List

MORAKOT: THE AFTERMATH: Rescue workers, mudslide survivors share shock, grief

MAN’S BEST FRIEND Huang Chin-bao said his dogs helped guide him and 40 neighbors to higher ground after mud claimed their homes in Xiaolin

By Sam Yeh  /  AFP , CISHAN

When rescuers reached Xioalin Village (小林), they found half of it buried under an avalanche of mud and water so deep that not even the roofs of buildings could be seen.

Around half of the 200 homes in the remote mountain village were smothered by mudslides triggered by Typhoon Morakot.

“I could hardly believe my eyes,” said Su Shen-tsun, one of the rescuers flown into Xiaolin by helicopter, describing the surreal sight of the village in Kaohsiung County’s Jiaxian Township (甲仙) submerged beneath a brown blanket of mud, rock and uprooted trees.

“The whole village disappeared and even roofs of the houses could not be seen,” Sun said.

Tearful survivors, anxious for news of missing loved ones, wept openly as they met villagers being ferried to safety nearby. Ambulances were on hand to take the injured to hospital.

“My house is gone. We have been trapped for four days and we are scared,” one resident told reporters from an elementary school in nearby Cishan Township (旗山) which was being used as a make-shift airfield.

He was one of about 70 villagers airlifted out on Tuesday.

Another survivor, Wong Ruei-chi, said he had lost 10 relatives in the mudslide.

“I’ve lived in the village for 46 years and I had seen strong winds and rain but I’ve never seen anything as terrible as this,” he said.

“I saw the mountain crumbling in seconds almost like an explosion and bury half of our neighborhood,” Huang Chin-bao, 56, said yesterday after being ferried out of the Xiaolin area by helicopter.

Huang said he and 40 neighbors were guided by his two dogs to higher ground.

“The dogs are our saviors,” Huang said.

Floods and landslides knocked out power in towns and villages across parts of the south, where rescuers were using everything from landing craft to armored vehicles and jetskis to reach stranded survivors.

“We have no water, no food and no electricity,” a 60-year-old man carrying a girl on his back said as he fled the village of Liukuei (六龜) on Tuesday. “I have to get my granddaughter out.”

Rescuers waded through chest-high water in some areas to reach homes, carrying the elderly on their backs or helping them into inflatable boats to escape the floods, caused by a record 3m of rain.

Some survivors piled their belongings on armored personnel carriers or used boats or makeshift rafts to navigate the flooded streets.

Elsewhere, piles of damaged furniture and ruined possessions were dumped in the streets — wreckage from the worst flooding in half a century.

In Taitung County, a scenic tourist spot famous for its hot spring, overflowing rivers destroyed numerous houses.

One woman there was hugging a tearful relative after an emotional reunion.

“I am so relieved that my aunt is alive,” she said on Tuesday.

From the air, the extent of the flooding became apparent, with vast tracts of valuable farmland and wrecked crops lying underwater.

Whole buildings could be seen uprooted from their foundations after rivers breached their banks, spewing floodwaters that swept away bridges and homes.

One survivor, Teng Chung-rung, described the terrifying rumble he heard as a mudslide bore down on his village.

He said he awoke to a noise “as loud as a tank” and ran for his life only to turn around and watch his home being swept away.

“I was frightened to death,” he said.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY BEN YEH, AFP

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