Battle on to rescue people stranded by floods

TAIPEI, Taiwan, The China Post Staff and Agencies

Rescuers yesterday intensified the battle against Taiwan’s worst floods in 25 years, which have killed at least 21 people, left 14 others missing and stranded 10,000 villagers stranded without fresh water and electricity in mountainous areas. Some 200 engineers and workers at five hydroelectric plants also were stranded by raging flood waters and mudslides triggered by Typhoon Mindulle, the National Disaster Relief Center said. The heavy rains eased but could continue to batter central and southern Taiwan until Wednesday, the Central Weather Bureau (CWB) said.

In central Nantou county, more than 10,000 residents were trapped in nine villages in a mountainous region after roads and bridges were washed away. Many sought shelter at churches or public schools after their homes were destroyed by mudslides, officials said.

The military dispatched about 1,000 soldiers to rescue villagers and tourists trapped in the flood-devastated regions, officials said.

Helicopters hovered over the flooded areas, but were unable to drop food and supplies because of bad weather conditions. The government has issued a warning to 81 towns and villages to prepare for more flooding and mudslides. “We’ve asked workers to do their best to restore power and water supplies,” government spokesman Chen Chi-mai said.

Mountainous areas recorded more than 1,100 millimeters (43 inches) of rain in the past three days, approaching the figure for a whole-year rainfall, officials said.

The worst damage was reported in Taichung County, where five hydroelectric power plants were either flooded or covered by mudslides. Several hundred engineers and other workers have been trapped in their dormitories since Saturday.

Damage at the power plants was estimated at more than NT$10 billion, the state-run Taiwan Power Co. said.

Taichung County Magistrate Huang Chung-sheng and several officials were helicoptered to Po Ai Elementary School located in the Sungho Tribal Village, where about 800 villagers are staying for temporary shelter after their homes were washed away or endangered by flash floods.

The village was left completely cut off by floods and mudslides, without any communications, running water or electricity. All the roads leading to the village have been inundated or disrupted.

Huang suggested that the villagers be transferred to a near-by Army base if the flood persists. Other County officials told the villagers that food supplies will be airlifted to them soon.

Typhoon Mindulle brought unexpectedly huge amounts of rainfall to Taiwan. The disaster relief center said rescuers battled mudslides and muddy flood waters to successfully evacuate 295 trapped villagers in 51 mountainous regions in the counties of Nantou and Taichung in central Taiwan. The military dispatched thousands of soldiers to rescue villagers and tourists trapped in mountainous regions and to help clean up the environment.

The Council of Agriculture raised the estimated crop, fishery, poultry and infrastructure damage over NT$3.87 billion. It has adopted several measures to help farmers to rebuild their operations and hold down skyrocketing vegetable prices. According to damage tallies compiled by the Ministry of Transportation and Communications, landslides took place at 105 spots on the highway networks. Engineers were still working at 42 spots as of yesterday. A total of 320 base stations for wireless telecommunications systems were out of order and an additional 10,653 customers of the fixed-line telecom services were affected.

About 30 percent were still out of operations mainly because maintenance teams were unable to reach certain areas where transport services were disrupted. Although the typhoon continued moving north toward east China and South Korea, the CWB officials expect more heavy rains in some areas with the heavy-rain warning to remain for until tomorrow.