Taiwan mudslide survivors found

About 1,000 people feared dead following a mudslide in Taiwan have been found alive, officials reported Wednesday.
Mudslide survivors are airlifted by helicopter after Typhoon Morakot. ((Taiwan Military News Agency/Associated Press))

About 1,000 people feared dead following a mudslide in Taiwan have been found alive, officials reported Wednesday.

The mudslide engulfed several remote villages after Typhoon Morakot pummeled the island with more than two metres of rain over the weekend.

Officials said many people from the villages appear to have scrambled up the slopes  to higher ground before the mud and rock covered their homes.

Survivors began to be spotted on Tuesday on the mountain hillsides around the village of Shiao Lin, which was most catastrophically hit by the mudslide, said relief operations spokesman Maj.-Gen. Hu Jui-chou.

Shiao Lin and its surrounding villages remain cut off from the outside world because the rain washed out roads and bridges in the area.

Military airlifts

About 120 army helicopter flights have ferried at least 300 of the survivors to safety in the southern town of Cishan, which has been the focal point of relief operations.

People from the flooded area of Kaohsiung County in Taiwan walk on a damaged road on Wednesday after Typhoon Morakot. ((Reuters))
Hu said 500 of the survivors found were from Min Tzu, 200 from Chin He and 270 from Shiao Lin.

Hu said efforts to get people out of the devastated regions have been complicated by continued bad weather in the area. Only a few dozen survivors were spotted and retrieved from the mountains on Wednesday, Hu said.

Some people who do not appear to need immediate medical assistance are being left on the ground and food and supplies are being air-dropped, officials said.

Many of the airlifted mudslide survivors are arriving at hospitals with injuries, said Albert Yu, communications manager with World Vision Taiwan.

"Right now they're in shock. They've lost their homes, they've possibly lost their livelihoods," Yu said.

'The place is finished'

Relief officials said they are still highly concerned about Shiao Lin because of the devastation in the village. Aerial footage from the area showed only two houses standing in the village.

Houses, businesses and schools remain covered in mud, and it is unknown how many people might be dead under the muck and rubble.

The only sign of life that has been spotted in the mud-covered valley is a sodden cat.

"The place is finished. There is no way I could return," said Luo Shun-chi, who escaped the slide on Sunday.

Morakot struck the Philippines, Taiwan and China and left at least 93 people dead, most of them in Taiwan. The typhoon and its aftermath are also believed to have killed millions of livestock.

Officials are not yet including the people still unaccounted for in the mudslides in their official tally of the missing — currently 61.

Many unaccounted for

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

"We've got some people out," Lee said. "But it is extremely hard to know how many remain there."

Taiwan's population register says that Shiao Lin has 1,300 inhabitants, though many, Lee said, were believed to be living elsewhere.

Officials said a family holiday over the weekend could mean several extra people visiting relatives might have been in the area when the mudslide came down.

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

On Tuesday, the National Fire Agency put that number at 100, without offering any evidence to support the claim.

With files from The Associated Press