Fears were growing last night for as many as 600 Taiwanese villagers feared buried alive after a mudslide triggered by a typhoon engulfed their rural mountain homes.
Typhoon Morakot swept through Taiwan over the weekend, dumping more than two metres of rain on the island in just two days and causing the worst flooding in 50 years.
Rescuers said they had managed to save only 45 people from the village of Hsiao Lin, which was now cut off from the outside world after the floodwaters washed out roads and brought down the main bridge.
"The mudslide covered a large part of the village, including a primary school and many homes," one survivor, Lin Chien-chung, told Taiwan's United Evening News. "A part of the mountain above us just fell on the village."
He estimated that up to 600 people were still buried under the mud in the southern Taiwanese village. A local police official, talking to the Associated Press, put the number of missing people at 400.
With no access to Hsiao Lin by road, helicopters dropped vital provisions from the air, for anyone that might have survived. Footage shot from the aircraft bore testament to the devastation. A sea of dark grey mud covered Hsiao Lin, with only the occasional solitary roof-top breaking through the surface.
"I could hardly believe my eyes," Su Shen-tsun, one of the rescuers, told reporters. "For a while, I even suspected we had the wrong search target. The whole village disappeared."
One 46-year-old villager recounted his lucky escape to a local TV station. He had been at work when the mudslide struck on Sunday morning. But on returning home, he realised that 10 family members had disappeared. "All of them were gone," he said, breaking into tears.
Another grief-stricken woman, wringing her handkerchief, could barely speak between sobs. "My father and mother were in there, no one survived," she said, before collapsing on her partner's shoulder.
Taiwans's official death toll from Morakot stood at 14 last night, with another 51 missing, not including the residents of Shiao Lin.
The typhoon, whose name means emerald in Thai, had already killed 22 people in the Philippines.
It forced one million people to be evacuated from their homes along the eastern seaboard on Sunday. In China, winds of up to 75mph destroyed houses and flooded farmlands The Xinhua news agency reported that one four-year-old child had been killed in Zhejiang province.
Morakot has now weakened into a tropical storm.Reuse content