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August 18, 2009

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Aid pours in for Taiwan rescue

A US relief team backed by heavy-lift helicopters arrived in Taiwan yesterday to help local authorities get aid to the hundreds of people thought to be stranded in mountain villages more than a week after a typhoon rocked the island.

Authorities said rescuers were still using helicopters to search for and rescue people trapped in the rural south, where flooding and mudslides triggered by Typhoon Morakot cut off villages and killed hundreds.

More than 200 people were rescued yesterday. Officials said late on Sunday that at least 1,000 people were still stranded.

A US team arrived on a CH-35E helicopter that took off from the USS Denver in waters off southern Taiwan to help out with the effort.

The Denver is set to arrive later in the day, a US defense official said. It is carrying four helicopters - all termed heavy-lift choppers capable of carrying equipment to remote mountainous areas that were cut off in the storm.

The US has already given US$250,000 to Taiwan for relief efforts and delivered relief goods both on Sunday and yesterday. Taiwan has also accepted aid from other countries including Israel, Australia and Singapore.

Death toll 500

Typhoon Morakot dumped more than 2 meters of rain on the island more than a week ago. That spawned flooding and massive landslides that stranded thousands in mountainous southern Taiwan. Among the estimated 500 dead, some 380 were buried under rubble in the remote village of Shiao Lin Village in eastern Kaohsiung County.

Rescuers continued their search yesterday for victims who perished in the storm. TV images showed rescuers crawling on the ground, smelling for dead bodies buried under mud.

Rescuers focused their operations on air dropping supplies and opening severed roads.

Over the weekend Taiwan leader Ma Ying-jeou apologized for his government's slow response to the disaster, following widespread criticism of its actions, including from members of his own party.

"Sorry we were late," he told people in the southern county of Pingtung on Sunday. "... I will take full responsibility in getting the remaining work done well."

Ma has described Morakot as the worst weather disaster to hit Taiwan in more than 50 years. On Friday he put its agricultural and property damage at more than NT$50 billion (US$1.5 billion).

Chinese pop stars hosted a four-hour TV special in Hong Kong late yesterday to raise money for the victims, singing a Chinese-language version of the Simon and Garfunkel classic, "Bridge over Troubled Water."

Morakot also killed 22 people in the Philippines and eight on the Chinese mainland.


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