China - Taiwan Province

Taiwan to probe officials on typhoon disaster

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* To come up with names on who is responsible by early Sept

* Cabinet likely to accept vice foreign min's resignation

* Typhoon to affect economy in third quarter

By Ralph Jennings

TAIPEI, Aug 18 (Reuters) - Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou said on Tuesday his administration would investigate officials for being slow in rescue efforts after Typhoon Morakot, which killed an estimated 500 people and is expected to hamper the economy in the short term.

Ma told a news conference the government would announce by early September whether any one would be held responsible.

"We will have a review of the performance of the government to make sure to identify the mistakes," Ma said, after bowing in apology. "And then we will start the investigation and punishment process. This is the consensus I have with the premier."

Earlier in the day, Taiwan Deputy Foreign Minister Andrew Hsia offered to quit over the ministry's refusal of overseas aid.

If the cabinet approves his resignation, he will be the most senior official to lose his job after the devastating typhoon.

"The resignation is now on the premier's desk. I believe he will approve it," Ma said. Hsia approved a letter declining foreign aid, contrary to government policy, Ma said.

Last week, the government replaced the National Fire Agency's disaster centre chief with Transport Minister Mao Chi-kuo after criticism from the public that the previous chief was too slow off the mark in rescue operations.

Uncertainty over a cabinet reshuffle dampened sentiment in Taiwan's financial markets, with the main TAIEX index <.TWII> falling 2 percent to hit a one-month closing low on Tuesday.

Since Morakot, the island's worst typhoon in 50 years, hit Taiwan over a week ago, more than 60 countries have donated about T$68 million ($2 million) in cash and other relief supplies as the army scrambled to rescue people from deadly mudslides.

So far, the official death toll is at 127, with over 300 more missing, Taiwan's leaders said at the news conference.

Post-disaster search and rescue work will become a bigger job for Taiwan's military from here on, Ma said, adding that the government would cut back purchases of U.S. military helicopters to spend T$10 billion on disaster relief equipment.

Torrential rains caused mudslides, which destroyed roads, wiped out villages in the south and caused farm-related losses of T$13 billion. The overall typhoon damage total will reach as high as T$110 billion, Ma said.

Ma said the typhoon would likely hurt the tech-reliant economy in the third quarter, in line with analysts' expectations. Analysts expect GDP to be affected during the period as farm, tourism and some traditional industries were hit.

In order to focus on relief efforts, Ma also said Taiwan would be cancelling celebrations during its National Day holiday on Oct. 10, while he will scrap plans for a visit to the South Pacific in October for a regional summit. (Additional reporting by Lin Miao-jung; Writing by Lee Chyen Yee; Editing by Sugita Katyal)

Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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