Taiwanese search for buried bodies in wake of killer typhoon

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The Independent Online

Survivors sobbed and frantic rescuers scooped up sandy, brown mud Tuesday that buried homes when Typhoon Toraji ripped into Taiwan, causing landslides and floods that killed 61 people and left about 150 missing.

Survivors sobbed and frantic rescuers scooped up sandy, brown mud Tuesday that buried homes when Typhoon Toraji ripped into Taiwan, causing landslides and floods that killed 61 people and left about 150 missing.

Toraji &#173 one of the most destructive typhoons to hit the island in decades &#173 weakened to a tropical storm as it swept over Taiwan and hit China early Tuesday. No damage or casualties were immediately reported in China.

The Taiwanese village of Kuang Fu in eastern Hualien County suffered the brunt of the storm, which hit land shortly after midnight Monday.

Many of the villagers &#173 exhausted and dressed in mud&#173stained clothes &#173 looked stunned as they gathered outside demolished homes and mourned the victims, burning incense and traditional "ghost money" for the dead to use in the afterlife.

"My brother is still down there. I don't know what happened and I don't know if they'll find him," said Lin Chin&#173shi, an 80&#173year&#173old farmer who watched rescuers dig up a two&#173story home.

Disaster officials said 61 people were killed and 152 were missing, and the total property and agricultural damage was estimated at 690 million Taiwan dollars (U.S. dlrs 20 million).

Landslides and flash floods swept away 23 people in Kuang Fu, where most of the villagers grow grapefruit, melons and betel nut in a lush valley and on the mountains that surround the town.

Survivors said boulders came tumbling down from the mountains and ripped out trees, knocked down telephone poles and crashed through homes.

Farmer Yang Min&#173shan, 56, said his family was huddling in the living room when flood waters smashed through the windows and gushed into his home before carrying away 10 relatives as he watched helplessly.

"I wanted to grab everyone, but I turned around and my wife and everyone else was gone," he said, tears welling up in his eyes. "It happened so fast. There was nothing to grab."

Yang said he survived by pinning himself against a wall with his two daughters, a son and one granddaughter. The water rose to their chins, he said, and they waited until the flood subsided at daybreak.

"I wanted to look for everyone else but I didn't know where to look," Yang said.

Rescuers were using large earth&#173moving equipment, shovels, hoes and about 3,000 soldiers to search for about 150 missing people in Hualien and neighboring Nantou County. One group focused on digging up a temple in Kuang Fu that villagers said had 14 bodies.

A makeshift tent morgue was set up outside the village school, where hospital workers cleaned up bodies before placing them in yellow plastic bags and sending them to the county morgue.

One woman cried uncontrollably as the workers prepared her husband's bloated, naked body. She sat down and held her hands together in prayer as volunteers patted her on her back and mumbled Buddhist chants.

President Chen Shui&#173bian visited Kuang Fu, and was quickly surrounded by mourning survivors. Two women kneeled down before him and begged for help, while another crying woman clung to him.

"I want to express my greatest sorrow to those killed and missing and their families," Chen told the crowd. "I hope that you'll be able to rebuild your homes."

Chen said the government would form a special panel that would find the fastest way to assist the victims.

Packing winds of 46 mph, Toraji travelled about 5 mph as it moved into Lianjiang County in China's southern Fujian Province about 1.45am local time Tuesday.

There were no immediate reports of damage or casualties in China, said local Chinese officials and China's State Meteorological Bureau.

Deadly landslides are common in Taiwan after typhoons dump huge amounts of rain, soaking the soil in unstable, mountainous regions where many of the island's 23 million people live and farm.

Some of the worst landslides happened where farmers were growing betel nut trees or illegally farming on mountain slopes. Betel nut trees, which produce olive&#173sized fruit commonly chewed as a mild stimulant, have short roots and do not firmly anchor the soil.