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More than 500 feared dead in wake of typhoon

©

Video by Siobhán SILKE

Text by NEWS WIRES

Latest update : 2009-08-14

Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou has raised the estimated death toll from the flooding and mudslides that followed Typhoon Morakot as public anger mounts over the government's response.

REUTERS - Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou, under pressure over his government's response to the aftermath of Typhoon Morakot, on Friday estimated that more than 500 people had died in flooding and mudslides.

Survivors and opposition parties say efforts to rescue people stranded in towns and villages have been sluggish. Some villagers were seen shouting at Ma as he toured devastated areas this week.

Ma gave his estimate of the death toll, a jump from previous figures of just over 100, at a national security meeting, a presidential aide said. Officials said about 300 may have died in a mudslide that levelled most of Hsiao Lin village in the south.

Increased pressure on Ma, who has improved ties with Beijing since taking power more than a year ago, could drain support for his Nationalist Party (KMT) in local elections in December.

"As one of the victims said the other day, 'I voted for you, but now I can't even reach you'," said Lin Chong-pin, strategic studies professor at Tamkang University in Taipei. "So there's a big drop in satisfaction with his performance."

Some are also calling for Ma to reshuffle his cabinet and may think long-term that he "doesn't care", said Hsu Yung-ming, a political science professor at Soochow University in Taipei.

Crews open road to stricken area

After days of dispatching helicopters to rescue survivors and distribute food in Hsiao Lin, authorities opened a road into the stricken district on Thursday.

But it was now unlikely that anyone trapped since Monday in the landslide had survived.

"The county magistrate gave the premier a report that in his judgement about 300 were dead," a Government Information Office section chief said.

"These are the conditions now. Specific numbers will depend on the army opening the road and sending people in."

Morakot has caused about T$30 billion ($910 million) in losses to agriculture and infrastructure and reconstruction is expected to cost about T$120 billion. The government spent about the same amount after a 1999 earthquake that killed 2,400 people.

The typhoon has knocked out 34 bridges and severed 253 segments of road in Taiwan, with repairs expected to take up to three years in the worst spots, the transportation ministry said.

In Cishan, a storm-ravaged town of 41,000, both road bridges had collapsed, smashing houses and taking down cars. Residents jammed a footbridge which remained standing.

Army crews used earth movers to clear mud from roads as hundreds of people cleaned homes or storefronts, heaving out water-logged possessions.

"My store has been closed for days because I figured no one could get to it," said Chen Chih-lu, who owns a furniture shop in Cishan. "My guess is 90 percent of us are digging out of the mud."

Outside Cishan, swathes of banana trees lay flat in the mud, testimony to agricultural losses totalling T$10 billion. Food prices soared by up to 50 percent and some staples were in short supply.

The government will spend T$3 billion to help farmers recover in the coming weeks, a council of agriculture official said.



 

Date created : 2009-08-14

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