China - Taiwan Province

Taiwan airlifts supplies to thousands after floods

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By Chen Wei

TUNGSHIH, Taiwan, July 6 (Reuters) - Rescuers in Taiwan scrambled to fly in food and drinking water to tens of thousands of people in mountain villages on Tuesday cut off by days of catastrophic floods and landslides.

At least 22 people have died in Taiwan from downpours triggered by Typhoon Mindulle and 14 were still missing, officials said, after some areas in central and southern Taiwan received a year's worth of rain in five days.

Rescuers were using helicopters to ferry supplies and pick up the injured in mountainous areas, after floods and landslides swept away roads and bridges and destroyed farmland.

"The most important thing is food," said Lin Chung-chi, fire chief in the mountainous Nantou County in central Taiwan.

He estimated between 10,000 and 20,000 people were trapped in two nearby villages without power, food or potable water.

The floods have receded and the remnants of Mindulle have moved north towards Japan, but weather officials said a heavy rain warning remained in force.

In the small town of Tungshih in the central county of Taichung, about 200 people sought shelter in the town hall. Their homes and fruit plantations in the mountains had been washed away.

"The 9-21 earthquake destroyed everything and this time, it's like another earthquake disaster," said Lin Kuang-yao, the leader of an Aborginal tribe in Santsakuan village, referring to a deadly earthquake that devastated the area on September 21, 1999.

"I have absolutely nothing left now."

A spokesman for the Central Weather Bureau said accumulated rainfall over the past few days in some areas had nearly reached the annual average precipitation figure of 2,500 mm (98 inches).

"You would only need some more heavy rain for disaster to strike again," the spokesman said.

The government estimated the cost of agricultural damage at T$4 billion ($118 million) and allocated T$11.27 billion in aid to help victims and rebuild devastated areas.

Many of those missing or killed in the latest disaster were buried by mudslides or swept away by swollen rivers. Rescuers said there was little hope of finding any of the missing.

A reservoir supplying Taichung county was damaged by rubbish carried by floodwaters, affecting around 550,000 households, said Chen Shen-shien, director general of the Water Resources Bureau.

Water supply would be restored to most households by Wednesday, although repair crews were as yet unable to reach 20,000 homes in remote areas.

More than 9,300 housesholds were still without power after flooding knocked out electricity to as many as 213,000 homes over the weekend. Taiwan Power Co. has estimated damage to its equipment and lost revenue at around T$10 billion ($297 million).

Mindulle has killed at least 45 people, including 23 in the Philippines. It was the worst storm to hit Taiwan since Typhoon Toraji killed 200 people in 2001. A few months later that year, Typhoon Nari caused Taipei's worst flooding on record and killed 100. (US$1 = T$33.8) (Additional reporting by Richard Dobson)

Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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