Residents of Kaohsiung’s Siaolin Village (小林) yesterday voiced their disappointment in the justice system after the Supreme Court rejected their appeal for compensation for a landslide in 2009 that destroyed the village and resulted in the deaths of 462 people.
The lawsuit — filed by 123 survivors and family members of village residents — had proposed compensation of NT$590 million (US$19.6 million), saying that local government officials had failed to evacuate the area after the highest-level warning for flooding and landslides had been issued.
Heavy rain brought by Typhoon Morakot on Aug. 8, 2009, had caused a rockslide on Siandu Mountain (獻肚山) on the northeast side of the village the next morning, destroying most buildings and killing 462 people.
The village was the one of the last cultural settlements of the Tavalong, one of the 12 Pingpu Aboriginal groups.
In the lawsuit, the residents said that yellow and red alerts for flooding and landslides had been issued eight times on Aug. 8 by the local disaster response center.
Despite the alerts, the plaintiffs said officials at the Jiasian Township District Office and other government units failed to evacuate and the state should therefore provide compensation for the deaths of their family members, the loss of property and other damages.
The plaintiffs took the case to the Supreme Court after they appealed a district court ruling in April 2014 and a Taiwan High Court ruling in August last year.
The Supreme Court judges in their ruling said the destruction of the village was the result of a natural disaster, and scientists and government officials had no way of foreseeing the scale of the flooding and landslide debris.
In addition, the decisions made by local officials on Aug. 8 and Aug. 9 had no direct relationship to the cause of the disaster, it said.
The ruling also said that as the designated evacuation center was Siaolin Elementary School, which was buried during the disaster, so even if an evacuation were carried out, it could not have prevented loss of lives and property.
Tsai Sung-yu (蔡松諭), the head of the village support group, yesterday said that he and the residents were disappointed and bitter about the ruling.
However, Tsai said the decision left an option open for 15 of the plaintiffs, as their residences were listed under a “potential landslide danger zone” by the local government, and the ruling said this portion of the lawsuit required a retrial.
For the rest of the plaintiffs, Wednesday’s ruling was final and cannot be appealed.
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