Taiwan scrambles to rescue 700 in landslide villages
CHISHAN, Taiwan, Aug 12, 2009 (AFP) - Taiwan Wednesday began airlifting to safety more than 700 people found alive in a trio of villages flattened by muddy landslides, as the island's death toll from Typhoon Morakot hit 66.
The military launched the helicopter operation in the battered island's south after the region was hit by its worst flooding in half a century, inundating entire villages in water and mud and cutting off all access by road.
"We have found around 700 people alive in three villages last night and 26 more this morning. We are deploying 25 helicopters to evacuate them," Major-General Richard Hu said.
Hu said he was unable to confirm how many people had been buried or killed by the landslide in Hsiaolin and in two other remote villages nearby.
Some media reports had speculated that up to 600 people had been killed just in Hsiaolin, which vanished under a tidal wave of mud at the weekend.
Rescuers had said Tuesday that around 100 people in Hsiaolin were feared to have been buried alive.
"We believed that some were buried but it's not possible to estimate how many at this moment as almost 90 percent of the houses were buried," Hu said.
Feelings were running high at a nearby school where relatives of missing people had gathered. Police and soldiers had to push back some who tried to storm their way onto the departing helicopters.
"I cannot wait any more. I want to look for my family," a man in his 40s shouted as he argued with soldiers.
He said he had not heard anything from his family since the typhoon dumped a record three metres (120 inches) of rainfall on southern Taiwan over the weekend.
Chu Chia-jung, 21, said she was desperate for news with only one of her many relatives in Hsiaolin accounted for.
"I've been really, really worried about my close relatives there," she said. "I hope the military can speed up their search and rescue."
Authorities Wednesday said Typhoon Morakot, which also killed eight people in eastern China, had left at least 66 people dead in Taiwan.
The toll included three rescuers who died when their helicopter crashed into a river in heavy fog in the southern county of Pingtung on Tuesday.
"Their bodies have been found and we are working to transport the bodies from the crash site," a policeman told reporters.
Another 61 people are missing in Taiwan and 35 others injured.
Armoured vehicles, marine landing craft and rubber dinghies have been mobilised in the rescue operation, which involves more than 17,000 troops across the island, the defence ministry said.
Typhoon Morakot has caused at least 7.2 billion Taiwan dollars (225 million US) in agricultural damage while nearly 30,000 houses were still without power and 750,000 homes without water, according to officials.
Charities and companies have launched donation drives for flood victims, raising more than two billion Taiwan dollars as of Tuesday, reports said. Official figures were not available.
Detained former president Chen Shui-bian, who is facing corruption charges, donated one million Taiwan dollars to his home county Tainan and to neighbouring Kaohsiung.
Morakot is one of the worst typhoons to strike Taiwan in 50 years. In August 1959, a typhoon killed 667 people and left around 1,000.
Copyright (c) 2009 Agence France Presse
Received by NewsEdge Insight: 08/12/2009 00:16:30
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