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Taiwan villages 'await rescue'
Death toll rises to 116 and hundreds believed still missing after Typhoon Morakot.
Last Modified: 14 Aug 2009 07:38 GMT

Roads damaged by the storm have hampered rescue and relief efforts in the worst-hit areas [Reuters]

Dozens of communities cut off by Typhoon Morakot in southern Taiwan are still waiting for rescue, nearly a week after the deluge, reports from the country say.

Relief workers in the south of the island have struggled to reach many areas, where roads have been cut by landslides and bridges washed away.

Authorities on Friday said the official death toll from the storm had risen to 116, after heavy rains caused some of the worst flooding on the island in 50 years.

But government officials said the figure does not include an estimated 300 people believed to have been buried in a mudslide in Hsiao Lin, one of the worst-hit mountain villages.

"The county magistrate gave the premier a report that in his judgment about 300 were dead," the Reuters news agency reported, quoting the head of Taiwan's government information office.

"These are the conditions now. Specific numbers will depend on the army opening the road and sending people in," the official said, in reference to Hsiao Lin.

Aid appeal 

Stephen Chen, the secretary-general of the Taiwan Red Cross Society, said rescue teams are searching for survivors in the village.

But he told Al Jazeera that heavy rains were hampering search efforts, even though they have eased in some parts of the island.

"If the weather gets better, then we can have more rescue teams going to the village," he told Al Jazeera on Friday.

In depth

 Typhoons: Asia's mega-storms
 In pictures: Morakot's destructive path
In video:
 Mudslide buries Taiwan town
 Thousands missing in Taiwan typhoon
 Typhoon Morakot hits southern China

In addition, Chen said, rescue teams need better resources, including newer helicopters, to tackle the recovery operation.

"Some of our helicopters are too old for these rescue needs. This kind of helicopter is more than 30 years old, and is not good enough. So we would like to have better helicopters."

The government issued an appeal on Thursday for international help, including heavy-lift helicopters, as part of efforts to locate and rescue the thousands of people still missing or stranded across the island.

"We welcome all forms of aid, and we also need equipment, especially helicopters that can carry cranes," Ma Ying-jeou, Taiwan's president, said on Thursday.

The call for aid came after Taiwan's military deployed another 4,000 soldiers to boost rescue efforts in the storm-devastated south.

The fresh troops join more than 10,000 soldiers already racing to reach survivors cut off by washed-out bridges and roads, the defence ministry said on Thursday.

Mounting criticism

Pressure is mounting on the government to speed up rescue and recovery efforts.

Many survivors from the hardest hit areas have said more lives could have been saved if authorities had acted more quickly.

At one rescue centre tempers flared as relatives desperate for news of missing loved-ones fought with police and soldiers as they tried to storm their way on to helicopters heading to the disaster zone.

 Taiwan has issued an appeal for international help as it steps up rescue efforts [AFP]
Newspaper editorials in Taiwan have also criticised the official response to the disaster - saying Ma was too slow to send in troops to help.

But the government has said it is ready to put more money into the rescue efforts and already has plans for rebuilding communities devastated in the storm.

Al Jazeera's Steve Chao, reporting from Kaohsiung county - one the hardest-hit regions - said it is difficult to gauge how accurate the criticism has been.

"We saw a huge presence of rescue workers and aid organisations and we saw a lot of the military soldiers working very hard ..., so it is difficult to get a true picture of how well or how poorly co-ordinated the relief effort has been," he said.

"We are aware of at least two communities that were not so much ignored, but did not receive aid fast enough.

"Some of the survivors were forced to live on water that they could find for themselves before aid arrived.

"So there is criticism. How real or true this is is still difficult to say. We will get a clear picture of that in the coming days."

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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