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September 17, 2009

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Typhoon-hit Taiwan starts to rebuild

FIVE weeks after Taiwan's worst storm in half a century killed hundreds of people and buried hundreds of village homes in mudslides, the massive task of reconstruction has only just begun.

Sections of densely forested mountain slopes are bare where mudslides cascaded down. The foundations of bridges that were destroyed by torrential waters lie on river beds lined with large boulders. The remains of a collapsed building teeter on a river bank.

Workers using large bulldozers are gradually removing the debris and wreckage. They are rebuilding downed bridges and repairing severed roads in the southern, upland regions worst hit when Typhoon Morakot slammed into the island on August 8 and 9.

The storm dumped two meters of rain in some areas of southern Taiwan, triggering flooding and mudslides in and around some 40 villages. About 700 people died.

The government has earmarked NT$120 billion (US$3.6 billion) for reconstruction work over the next three years. That will include building houses for the 7,000 people whose homes were washed away or destroyed.

In the district of Kaohsiung, workers face the gigantic job of rebuilding 30 destroyed bridges and repairing many parts of a 600-kilometer road through the mountains.

Its two main rivers, Laonung and Cishan, and many tributaries breached their banks. Waterfall and hot-spring resorts, were buried under mudslides, along with houses, orchards and vegetable plantations.

"Nothing could stand intact when such massive floodwaters and mudslides came rushing down," said Huang San-che, an official supervising the reconstruction work, as he pointed to the craggy foundation of the destroyed Jiashian Bridge.

"Such flooding may become more frequent," he said. "We will have to build the new bridges taller, wider and stronger. The embankments will also be reinforced."

Rains dumped by Morakot in the two-day period surpassed the amount of rain that normally accumulates over an entire year.

Meteorologists fear torrential rain could hit the island more frequently as a possible result of climate change.


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