Taiwan adds troops for typhoon relief

The Taiwan military deployed thousands more troops to its southern regions on Thursday as criticism mounted about the government's dealing with the devastating aftermath of Typhoon Morakot.
Soldiers help survivors evacuate Thursday from a village hit by a mudslide. ((Taiwan Military News Agency/Reuters))

The Taiwan military deployed thousands more troops to its southern regions on Thursday as criticism mounted about the government's dealing with the devastating aftermath of Typhoon Morakot.

About 4,000 more troops were sent into the region on Thursday to aid the 10,000 already in the area dealing with survivors who have been left stranded by the storm.

Morakot struck Taiwan on the weekend and dumped more than two metres of rain before moving on to China.

The storm washed out roads and bridges and triggered devastating mudslides that have engulfed entire villages.

Huge disaster

"The disaster is huge and many bridges were smashed. Vast numbers of people have been affected and the weather has been very bad," said Col. Tseng Ching-liang.

Taiwanese await word on their relatives as military helicopters transport mudslide survivors to Cishan on Thursday. ((Wally Santana/Associated Press))
The death toll in Taiwan is listed at 108 with 61 also listed as missing. But hundreds are still believed to be unaccounted for following the mudslides.

Criticism has been mounting that the Taiwanese government is not doing enough to rescue the survivors or provide relief to the south in the aftermath of the typhoon.

Some residents challenged President Ma Ying-jeou as he toured relief operations sites, saying his government should have accepted international help to expedite the rescue process.

Villagers told officials who visited the worst-hit areas this week that more of their relatives could have been saved if they had moved sooner and faster, according to local media reports.

Military officials reported on Wednesday that they have spotted and begun to rescue about 1,000 villagers from the communities around Shiao Lin, where the mudslides had been most catastrophic.

But poor weather on Wednesday had halted efforts to retrieve survivors, who have been spotted on hillsides and fields around the villages overtaken by the slides.

"How can they be so slow? Clearly they should be sending more helicopters, right?" Yan Min-rong told Reuters as he waited for signs of relatives coming off the airlifts.

14,000 rescued

A total of 14,000 people affected by the storm have been rescued since the weekend, according to relief officials.

About 600 people were retrieved on Thursday and taken to the relief centre in Cishan.

Interior Minister Liao Liao-yi said troops have now reached several villages on foot and are not solely dependent on the helicopters.

Relief officials urged the Taiwanese government Thursday to ask the international community to provided giant choppers that could carry cranes, prefabricated houses and sterilizers.

Some survivors airlifted from the region have told reporters that they had tried to return to their villages and dig out their homes in an effort to save buried relatives.

There is no way of knowing how many people may be buried in the mud in Taiwan, said Cishan police Chief Lee Chin-lung.

Some rescued villagers said as many as 600 people may have been buried alive when the mudslide hit.

Lake floods village

Officials estimate 2,000 people who escaped flood waters or mudslides are waiting to be airlifted to shelters in open fields and on higher ground in the region.

Meanwhile officials urged more than 300 villagers to leave their homes in the southern township of Toayuan on Thursday as a lake created by the storm's flood waters burst its banks.

The residents were told to move to higher ground just 30 minutes before the water flooded into their village. Two more lakes in the same area are also expected to burst through their embankments, officials added.

"There would be a massive amount of water flowing down the Laonung River and we have alerted villagers around to flee," relief official Hsu Chin-biao said.

With files from The Associated Press