Taiwan military rescues 300 typhoon victims

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The Independent Online

Taiwan's military rescued about 300 people today after a mudslide touched off by Typhoon Morakot consumed a village, but scores remained missing. A helicopter on a relief operation in the area crashed into a mountain with three crew aboard.

Chen Chung-hsien, an official in charge of the relief effort, said it was unclear if the two pilots and one technician had survived the crash near Wutai in Pingtung county.

The helicopter had been delivering food and rescuing villagers trapped after a mudslide inundated the remote village of Shiao Lin, leaving at least 400 people unaccounted for.

Morakot, which triggered the worst flooding in Taiwan in 50 years, dumped as much as 80 inches (two meters) of rain at the weekend before moving on to China.

Taiwanese authorities put the confirmed death toll from Morakot at 50 and listed 58 people as missing, not including the residents missing in Shiao Lin, whose fate has been unclear since Sunday's mudslide. Access to the area — in the southern reaches of the island's heavily foliated mountainous spine — is restricted to the military.

Rescue operations were being carried out by helicopters, which hovered over the village looking for survivors.

Officials said more than 300 people were brought out today on up to 120 flights from a large mountainous area in Kaohsiung to an improvised landing zone at Cishan Junior High School. The people saved came from Shiao Lin and surrounding villages, officials said.

Those rescued today escaped the mudslide by running to higher ground, from where they were plucked by the helicopters. But those saved from other villages — which are miles away from Shiao Lin — had enough time to run to open ground.

One of the women ferried out Tuesday implored the military to do everything to rescue her family and friends. "There are still a lot of people trapped inside," Lin Mei-ying told television station ETTV. "Please go faster, so they can be saved."

Taiwan's National Fire Agency said 100 villagers were buried alive when the mudslide hit, though it did not offer details to back up that assessment. But some of the 30 residents who were among those rescued Monday said the figure was far higher — perhaps as many as 600.

Taiwan's population registry lists Shiao Lin as having 1,300 inhabitants, though many are believed to live elsewhere.

The village's almost total isolation complicated reporting about its fate. Shiao Lin was cut off after floodwaters destroyed a bridge about eight miles away. A back road wending its way northward toward the mountain community of Alishan was also believed to be cut off, and with rain still falling in the area, prospects for an early resumption of overland travel were poor.

A woman rescued Monday told Taiwan's China Times newspaper that she fled with her husband and their baby from their two-story Shiao Lin home minutes before the mudslide buried it.

"We heard two loud bangs," the woman surnamed Chi was quoted as saying. "The sky was filled with dust like a volcanic eruption, and flood waters, mud and rocks streamed onto the roads."

Officials said more than 600 people from nearby villages survived by running to open ground and have been waiting since Sunday for rescuers.

Television footage showed the streets of one village covered by thick mud and rubble. A 51-year-old man from Jilai village was swept 1.2 miles away when the mudslides that struck Shiao Lin rushed down a nearby mountain. According to news reports, he survived by holding on to a log.

After pummeling Taiwan, Morakot slammed into China's Fujian province, bringing heavy rain and winds of 74 miles per hour, according to the China Meteorological Administration. Authorities evacuated 1.4 million people, the official Xinhua News Agency said.

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.