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August 24, 2009

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Taiwan typhoon toll at least 650

THE death toll from Typhoon Morakot was raised to at least 650 yesterday after the worst weather disaster to hit Taiwan in half a century.

At least 160 people were confirmed killed, with another 490 listed as missing and presumed dead.

DNA tests would be conducted on battered bodies that authorities had not yet been able to identify, government officials said yesterday.

The storm that hit two weeks ago triggered landslides and widespread flooding that trapped thousands of people in remote southern villages for days.

Television footage yesterday showed soldiers and students bailing out homes and streets in the southern city of Linbian in Pingtung County, which was still in knee-deep waters because drainage ditches were blocked by debris.

Hundreds of soldiers waded through floodwaters to the area where homes once stood in Shiao Lin, the village hardest-hit by massive landslides.

Some were searching for floating bodies. Others were preparing to dig up the more than 400 bodies believed buried under several meters of mud, said military relief operations spokesman Tai Chan-teh.

Dozens of surviving Shiao Lin residents have demanded the government investigate the cause of the landslides that wiped out their village.

The government's slow rescue operation has led to villagers accusing officials of failing to act promptly and critics blaming authorities for failing to order evacuations.

Taiwan leader Ma-Ying-jeou has struggled to calm widespread anger as his approval rating has plunged to below 20 percent.

Ma has been visiting hard-hit areas in the south over the past few days and promising that a planned US$3 billion reconstruction program will be carried out efficiently.

The Taiwan-based Straits Exchange Foundation said yesterday the third batch of 300 prefabricated houses from the Chinese mainland would reach the island today.

The mainland plans to send a total of 1,000 prefab houses to Taiwan by the end of August. Two batches of 300 houses have already been forwarded to the island.

Seven mainland technicians of the prefab producer are expected to arrive in Taiwan today to help install the houses, according to the SEF. Three other technicians already arrived on the island by Saturday night.


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