Taiwan appeals for storm relief aid

Officials seek heavy lifting helicopters as criticism grows over pace of rescue efforts.

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

    He said the kind of helicopters that were needed were only made in the US and Russia.

    Troops deployed

    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

    So far Taiwan's government has confirmed 108 deaths but Ma said he expected that number to climb significantly.

    Officials fear that thousands of people may have been buried in the devastating mudslides triggered by the heavy downpours and strong winds associated with Typhoon Morakot.

    The call for aid comes after Taiwan's military deployed another 4,000 soldiers to boost rescue efforts in the storm-devastated south, as the government stepped up efforts to deal with the worst flooding the island has seen in 50 years.

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

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

    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.

    Lakes threat

    The typhoon triggered dozens of mudslides that engulfed mountain villages [AFP]

    Al Jazeera's Steve Chao, reporting from the heart of rescue operations, said that with more personnel on the way, rescue teams were focusing on evacuating villages facing the new threat posed by the swelling "mud lakes".

    He said the build-up of water and mud from days of heavy rain threatened to overflow onto villages that had been previously thought safe.

    Heavy rains, which had made rescue efforts slow-going, eased off on Thursday, allowing helicopters to go deeper into the affected region to get a better assessment of the threat, our correspondent said.

    Rescue teams were also taking advantage of the improved weather to airlift scores of survivors from villages already demolished by mudslides to safety in Cishan in Kaohsiung county, where a makeshift landing zone has been set up at a school.

    Nearly 1,000 survivors who had made it to higher ground before walls of mud and rock covered their homes in at least three villages, were located on Wednesday, but heavy rains had made airlifting them out slow-going and dangerous, with helicopters only making a few dozen trips on Wednesday.

    Highlighting the continuing danger, funerals were held on Thursday for three rescue workers killed earlier this week when their helicopter crashed into a mountain in heavy fog.

    In Hsiao Lin, one of the worst hit mountain villages, hopes of finding survivors have faded after rescue teams found nearly the entire village wiped out by a mudslide.

    The entire place had been enveloped by mud and only two out of about 200 homes remained standing, the rest either completely covered or washed away, our correspondent said from the scene.
    Only about 50 villagers managed to escape by climbing up to higher ground and more than 600 people were believed dead, witnesses said.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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