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August 15, 2009

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Taiwan lifts death toll from Morakot to 500

Floods and mudslides unleashed by Typhoon Morakot last weekend have killed about 500 people on the island, Taiwan leader Ma Ying-jeou said yesterday as he called on rescue crews to step up their efforts.

Morakot destroyed the homes of 7,000 people and caused agricultural and property damage in excess of NT$50 billion (US$1.5 billion), Ma said.

He called it the most severe damage to the island in more than 50 years.

"While the rescue operation is still going on, we have started rehabilitation and reconstruction work, which is just as pressing as relief efforts but might be even more difficult and cumbersome," Ma said.

Morakot dumped more than 2 meters of rain on the island last weekend and stranded thousands in villages in the mountainous south. A total of 15,400 villagers have been ferried to safety, and rescuers are working to save another 1,900 people still stuck.

Ma said the death toll includes 120 confirmed deaths, and about 380 people believed to be buried in the debris of a landslide in Shiao Lin, the hardest-hit village.

A road to Shiao Lin was finally opened yesterday, but authorities have given up hope of finding anyone alive under the tons of mud that now cover the village, Kaohsiung county chief Yang Chiu-hsing said. Instead of digging into some 170 mud-buried homes, a memorial park will be built on the site, he told reporters.

Transport cut

In the neighboring village of Liu-Guei, more than 200 people had fled while 32 were feared buried.

Only roofs of houses could be seen as most of the structures had been buried in mud.

The typhoon has knocked out 34 bridges and severed 253 road segments in Taiwan, with repairs expected to take up to three years in the worst spots, transportation authorities said.

A swollen lake in the mountains of southeastern Taiwan began to spill its banks yesterday, shortly after people downstream had evacuated, the disaster center said.

In Cishan, a storm-ravaged town of 41,000, both road bridges had collapsed, smashing houses and taking down cars. Residents jammed a footbridge that remained standing.

As public complaints about the slow rescue work increased, the government said its operations have been hampered because many areas of the country were cut off when roads and bridges collapsed.

Rescue workers have relied on helicopters to reach the worst-hit areas, and on Thursday authorities requested larger choppers from foreign governments.


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