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August 13, 2009

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Many alive, hundreds still lost in Taiwan

RESCUERS have found nearly 1,000 people alive in the area around three remote Taiwan villages devastated by Typhoon Morakot, which pummeled the island over the weekend, authorities said yesterday.

Hundreds more were missing and feared dead in Kaohsiung County, which bore the brunt of the storm, though the official death toll stood at 103, and authorities could confirm only 61 missing.

While other areas of the island were hit hard, rescuers were focusing their efforts on Kaohsiung, believing most of those unaccounted for could be trapped there. But continuing heavy rains were hampering their efforts.

Yesterday only a few dozen army helicopters were able to ferry survivors to safety in Cishan, where a makeshift landing zone was set up at a school. The day before, 300 people who escaped mudslides and still looked dazed were plucked from Shiao Lin Village and its surroundings.

Since that rescue, another 270 people have been spotted near the village, which was destroyed by a mudslide on Sunday. Army official Hu Jui-chou said 500 survivors were also found in Min Tzu and 200 in Chin He.

Morakot struck the Philippines, Taiwan and Chinese mainland and left at least 133 people dead, most of them in Taiwan.

It dumped as much as 2 meters of rain on the island before moving on to Chinese mainland.

A major concern for relief officials remained Shiao Lin, cut off from the outside world since Sunday's mudslides.

Video taken by TV station ETTV showed the village buried in tons of mud and rubble, with only two of its structures left standing.

Luo Shun-chi, 36, who escaped from Shiao Lin after Sunday's mudslide, told The Associated Press that he did not know how many of his fellow villagers remained alive.

Uncertain toll

He said that between 500 and 600 people were in Shiao Lin at the time of the disaster - far fewer than the 1,300 people listed in Taiwan's population registry.

Taiwan's fire agency has said 100 people were under the mud in Shiao Lin but didn't offer any evidence to back up that claim.

Luo said that whatever the Shiao Lin death toll, he was never going back.

"The place is finished," he said. "There is no way I could return."

Morakot also claimed 22 lives in the Philippines and eight on the Chinese mainland. After leaving Taiwan, Morakot slammed into the mainland's Fujian Province, bringing heavy rain and winds of 119 kilometers per hour, according to the China Meteorological Administration.

Authorities ordered 1.5 million people to leave the area, sending them to schools, government offices, hospitals and the homes of relatives, where they will remain until the rain stops and waters recede, the Civil Affairs Ministry has said.

Morakot damaged or destroyed more than 10,000 homes and flooded over 400,000 hectares of cropland, the ministry said. It said direct economic losses were estimated at 9.7 billion yuan (US$1.4 billion).

The heavy rains triggered a massive landslide in Pengxi, a town in Wenzhou City in east China's Zhejiang Province, destroying seven three-story apartment buildings at the foot of a mountain late Monday. An unknown number of residents were buried in the landslide.

A separate storm, Typhoon Etau, moved away from Japan's east coast yesterday after killing at least 18 people and leaving nine others missing. Most were swept away by rain-swollen rivers or killed in landslides and floods.


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