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August 14, 2009

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Thousands saved by rescuers in Taiwan

TERRIFIED survivors of Typhoon Morakot were pulled to safety in Taiwan yesterday along cables slung across a raging river, five days after dozens of their fellow villagers died in flash floods.

Thousands of rescuers have been sent to save hundreds of stranded villagers after the worst flooding to hit the island in 50 years. Some 14,000 villagers have been rescued so far. Hundreds more are feared missing or dead.

Rescuers tugged survivors from the farming village of Sinkai 100 meters across the Ba Si Lan River, using a cable sling suspended above the torrential, muddy waters.

Unbuckled from their harnesses after the perilous journey, villagers looked dazed and frightened as they recalled the harrowing night they spent last Saturday.

"It rained for days," said Li Wen-chuan, 68. "But the flood came so suddenly and with a tremendous roar. It destroyed everything in the village."

"This is the worst thing that has ever happened to me," he said, adding that many of the 32 who died in the village were friends and family. "My life will never be the same."

On the far side of the river were the foundations of a destroyed bridge that had linked Sinkai with Sinfa - where the villagers were hauled to safety. A sign, put up to call attention to the villagers' plight, recorded the loss of life: "32 people died here SOS."

Sinkai is only one of the scores of the isolated mountain villages in the rural south of Taiwan devastated by Typhoon Morakot, which dumped 2 meters of rain on the island this past weekend. One of the worst affected is Shiao Lin, where hundreds remain missing after a catastrophic mudslide spawned by days of torrential rain.

Taiwan's official death toll from the storm now stands at 108, with another 62 listed as missing. That does not include the toll in Shiao Lin and other remote communities.

Many of those rescued say they can never return to their villages because there is nothing left to return to.

Many complained that the government was too slow to mobilize the rescue and cleanup effort, saying more victims could have been saved if they had moved sooner and faster.

"Why does the government say only useless things?" a woman anxious to learn the fate of relatives trapped in Kaochung Village in the south asked. "I've been waiting for several days, yet there has not been anyone going to rescue my family."

So far some 14,000 villagers have been rescued - including 600 yesterday. Another 2,000 villagers were still waiting to be ferried to shelters, and several hundred more remain unaccounted for and are feared lost.


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