Police: Hard to know Taiwan village mudslide toll
CISHAN, Taiwan — Police said Wednesday that there is no way to know for sure how many people remain buried in the catastrophic mudslide that struck a remote mountain village in Taiwan over the weekend when a typhoon lashed the region.
Survivors fear that hundreds are dead in the southern village of Shiao Lin, and Cishan police chief Lee Chin-lung said efforts to pluck survivors from the village were continuing for a fourth day.
The doomed community of Shiao Lin and its densely foliated surroundings were buried under tons of mud Sunday morning after torrential rain spawned by Typhoon Morakot unleashed the heaviest flooding Taiwan has seen in 50 years.
Morakot, which means “emerald” in the Thai language, struck the Philippines, Taiwan and China and left at least 93 people dead, most of them in Taiwan. It dumped as much as 80 inches (two meters) of rain on the island before moving on to China, where authorities evacuated 1.5 million people and some 10,000 homes were destroyed.
Shiao Lin and its surroundings remain cut off from the outside world. Rains from the typhoon washed out a nearby bridge, and since Sunday the only access has been by military helicopter.
On Tuesday some 120 chopper flights brought about 300 people from Shiao Lin and its surroundings to Cishan, the hardscrabble town in the southern Taiwanese county of Kaohsiung that is serving as the center for rescue operations.
Lee said that 200 of those air lifted out came from Shiao Lin itself, but it was nearly impossible to estimate how many might still be there — either alive or buried under the rubble.
“We’ve got some people out,” Lee said. “But it is extremely hard to know how many remain there.”
Taiwan’s population register says that Shiao Lin has 1,300 inhabitants, though many, Lee said, were believed to be living elsewhere.
Some rescued villagers said that as many as 600 people may have been buried alive when the mudslide hit. On Tuesday, the National Fire Agency put that number at 100, without offering any evidence to support the claim. The military said later that day its rescue missions had located another 200 survivors from Shiao Lin in a nearby field and will try to ferry them out.
On Tuesday, a government helicopter crashed into a mountain as it flew on a rescue mission in the southern county of Pingtung. Li Wen-cheng, an official with the fire department there, said Wednesday that all three people aboard had been found dead.
The official death toll from Typhoon Morakot stands at 63 in Taiwan, while authorities say another 61 are missing. That figure is mostly people killed from flooding and does not include people from Shiao Lin and its surroundings.
Outside of Taiwan, Morakot also claimed 22 lives in the Philippines. After pummeling Taiwan, Morakot slammed into China’s Fujian province, bringing heavy rain and winds of 74 miles (119 kilometers) per hour, according to the China Meteorological Administration.
Authorities ordered 1.5 million people to leave the area, sending them to schools, government offices, hospitals and the homes of relatives, where they will remain until the rain stops and waters recede, the Civil Affairs Ministry has said.
Morakot damaged or destroyed more than 10,000 homes and flooded over 1 million acres (400,000 hectares) of cropland, the ministry said. It said direct economic losses have been estimated at 9.7 billion yuan ($1.4 billion).
The heavy rains triggered a massive landslide in Pengxi, a town in Wenzhou city of eastern China’s Zhejiang province, destroying seven three-story apartment buildings at the foot of a mountain late Monday, an official surnamed Chen from the Pengxi government told The Associated Press.
Xinhua reported that an unknown number of residents were buried in the landslide, though Chen put the number at six. All were pulled out alive but two later died of their injuries, he said.
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