Aborigines, environmentalists and typhoon victims’ groups accused Water Resources Agency (WRA) Director Chen Shen-hsien (陳伸賢) of lying yesterday after he said inadequate flood-prevention infrastructure and land exploitation were responsible for the devastation caused by Typhoon Morakot.
The torrential rain brought by the typhoon in early August left villages in mountainous Kaohsiung County buried or seriously damaged by mudslides.
Siaolin Village (小林) in Jiasian Township (甲仙), Kaohsiung County, was almost completely buried, killing around 500 residents.
Although many environmental groups said a tunnel being dug through several mountain ranges to divert water from the Laonong River (荖濃溪) in Kaohsiung County to the Zengwun Reservoir (曾文水庫) in Tainan County triggered the tragedy, Chen said the construction work had been carefully assessed and was safe.
Instead, he blamed poor soil and water conservation and exploitation of land by the victims.
When many survivors said explosives used to build the tunnel had damaged the local terrain, Chen said that no explosives were used for the western half of the tunnel, which passes through the disaster areas.
At the National Water Management Conference yesterday, Chen, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and Premier Wu Den-yih (吳敦義), said better flood prevention structures and dredging would be needed to prevent mudslides and flooding.
“The government — especially the WRA — should stop blaming mudslides, poor soil and water conservation, or exploitation of land by typhoon victims for the devastation,” Taiwan Green Association Kaohsiung director Lu Tai-ying (魯台營) told a press conference outside the conference yesterday.
“After all, to come up with a real solution — as the conference intends — you have to find out what the real problem is and tell the truth,” he said.
Lu accused Chen of hiding the truth and urged the government to scrap the trans-basin diversion project.
While Chen said Siaolin was buried by massive mudslides from nearby Mount Siandu (獻肚山) because villagers had been growing ginger and bamboo there, Lu displayed satellite photos that showed otherwise.
The satellite photo showed that the mud and rocks that buried Siaolin came from the much higher Mount Anlunming (鞍輪名山)
The collapsed part of the mountain corresponded with the location of the water diversion tunnel.
Citing information from the Soil and Water Conservation Bureau, Lu also said the buried area in Siaolin did not correspond with the area designated by the bureau as the “mudslide alert zone.”
Hsu Jung-chung (徐榮忠), a Siaolin survivor who attended the press conference, supported Lu’s view.
“I’ve been living there for more than 50 years, and we’ve always grown ginger and bamboo there, but nothing like this ever happened before,” Hsu said. “However, small amounts of rocks and mud started to fall on the village from the mountains since last year — a year after the construction work began.”
Another typhoon survivor, Istanda Paingav, from another mudslide-devastated area in Cinhe Village (勤和), Taoyuan Township (桃源), Kaohsiung County, was also convinced that the construction work triggered the disaster.
Istanda said that the night before Siaolin was buried, large amounts of water from the Laonong River flowed into the east end of the water diversion tunnel located in the village.
Cinhe is located on the northeastern side of Siaolin and was to be the place where water from the Lanong River would flow into the tunnel on its way to the Zengwun Reservoir.
“The water must have accumulated in the section of the tunnel underneath Mount Anlunming not far from Siaolin, and collapsed the tunnel, causing rocks and mud to pour down from the mountain,” Istanda said.
“I don’t expect any official to be indicted for the mistake, but I do hope that the real problem can be identified and resolved so that the more than 500 people lost in the disaster may rest in peace,” Lu said.
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