Rescuers search Taiwan village after mudslide

Helicopters dropped rescuers into a village in southern Taiwan on Tuesday to search for victims of a mudslide that may have buried up to 600 people after a typhoon hit the island, officials said.

Survivor Lee Chin-long (50) said he watched in horror as walls of mud wiped out most of the village, home to 1 000 people and now accessible only by helicopter after roads were cut.

“I was watching from my house upstairs. The whole mountain just fell off. When I saw that, I started to run,” said Lee, speaking from a shelter in the nearby town of Cishan that has become the hub of rescue operations.

“Almost every house was gone, except for a couple.”

Over the past few days, more than 80 people have been confirmed killed by Typhoon Morakot and tropical storm Etau, including 41 in Taiwan, 23 in the Philippines, 13 in Japan and six in China, according to officials in the region.
The storms have caused hundreds of millions of dollars in damage.

In Taiwan, Typhoon Morakot unleashed torrential rain that has set off landslides across the island, caused rivers to burst their banks, flooded farmland and even washed a six-storey hotel into a river.

Most concern has focused on the small village of Hsiao Lin in mountainous Kaohsiung county. Officials have said about 600 people could not be accounted for from the village’s population of 1 000 and were feared buried.

Taiwan’s disaster agency said about 100 villagers had been rescued so far, while others were still stuck around the village.

“Some people have been contacted and some are still missing and we’re still on the scene checking,” an official from the disaster agency said.

Heavy rains had washed out roads and bridges in the area, severing land traffic.

“We saw an entire hotspring area being wiped out and vehicles buried,” said Wu Chao-neng (72) as he got off a helicopter in Cishan after being rescued from a landslide in another village.

At a school serving as the rescue centre in Cishan, victims, some on stretchers, were put in ambulances to be taken to hospital for treatment.

The typhoon has started to weaken over China’s coastal regions after battering Taiwan. It caused floods in Taiwan’s densely populated south and farm-related losses on the island were estimated at more than T$5-billion ($152-million).

Taiwan financial firm SinoPac Holdings said the typhoon would likely widen by 0,5 percentage points the island’s GDP contraction in the third quarter due to losses in the agriculture and tourism sectors.

A landslide triggered by rains from the typhoon toppled up to seven houses in eastern China late on Monday, the official Xinhua news agency said. It said two people had been killed.

In Japan, tropical storm Etau approached the island’s central area and Tokyo, hours after a magnitude 6,5 earthquake that threw food and bottles from store shelves and disrupted transport.

Japan’s weather agency warned of possible landslides and flooding, as the quake followed heavy rain. TV pictures showed one motorway partially washed out.

Heavy rains from the storm have killed 13 people with 15 missing in Hyogo and Okayama prefectures in western Japan, municipal officials said.—Reuters

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