Wed, Aug 19, 2009 - Page 2 News List

MORAKOT: THE AFTERMATH : Search efforts now focus on dead

XIAOLIN QUAGMIRE Soldiers yesterday began marking places where bodies or portions of bodies have been found in the mudslide that is 15m deep in some parts

By Meggie Lu  /  STAFF REPORTER, WITH AFP

Rescue and cleanup work after the Morakot catastrophe entered its 11th day yesterday, as the focus shifted from rescue to retrieval of bodies and funeral arrangements.

Soldiers yesterday began using small flagpoles to mark the spots in Xiaolin Village (小林), Kaohsiung County, where bodies or portions of bodies had been found. They found three bodies and some 30 sets of remains.

Xiaolin survivors say about 500 residents were buried under the 15m of mud that covers their former homes.

The survivors were divided yesterday over whether to agree to move to a new site in Wulipu (五里埔), where the government wants them to relocate.

Kaohsiung County Commissioner Yang Chiu-hsing (楊秋興) announced on Monday that the government had chosen a 40-hectare site in Wulipu, which is near Xiaolin.

One survivor said the remaining villagers should rely on themselves instead of the government to rebuild their homes at Wulipu.

“If Xiaolin villagers can stop crying, then the whole of Taiwan will stop crying, because we have made it through, and no one has suffered more than we have,” he said.

One elderly woman said she would never return to Xiaolin.

“I lost some 40 members of my family there. I do not want those memories to be brought back,” she said.

At a makeshift morgue in Cishan Township (旗山), a senior police officer told Agence France-Presse that only 50 bodies had been processed because they were badly damaged and would require DNA identification.

“We have been working around-the-clock here for days. But while we hope to help families recover the bodies of their loved ones on the mountain, it is not easy to find them. The mud they were buried in is often a few stories high,” said the officer, who gave only his surname, Chang.

US military helicopters joined the relief operations yesterday, lifting excavation equipment into areas that have been cut off for 10 days by flooding and mudslides.

TV footage showed heavy-lift military helicopters carrying crane shovels into the disaster area to help speed up repairs to blocked roads.

A spokesman for the Army’s 8th Legion, Hu Jui-chou (胡瑞舟), said the US helicopters will return to the Austin-class USS Denver, which is anchored offshore near Tainan, when they finish their work each day.

The Ministry of National Defense will pay for the cost of using the US helicopters, such as fuel.

Rescue officials and tribal elders said rescue operations continued at a slow pace yesterday as many typhoon victims, mostly Aboriginal, refused to leave cut-off villages, fearing they would not be allowed to return.

Central Emergency Operations Center (CEOC) commander Mao Chi-kuo (毛治國) has said the military may have to start removing people by force because it would be too expensive to airlift food and supplies to villages in the six months it is expected to take to rebuild roads.

The government’s casualty count stood at 128 dead and 307 missing yesterday, not including those possibly buried in the Xiaolin landslide.

In related news, National Fire Administration Director-General Huang Chi-min (黃季敏) collapsed at the CECOC around noon, apparently because of fatigue and work pressure.

He fell to the floor unconscious and began foaming at the mouth. He was rushed to West Garden Hospital in Taipei City’s Wanhua District (萬華) for treatment.

The hospital said Huang had regained consciousness and his condition was not life threatening. Further examinations were needed because he struck his head on the floor when he fell and because the reason for his collapse remained unclear, the hospital said.

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