Aborigines fear they have no home

TAIPEI, Taiwan, The China Post Staff

Residents in Yunlin’s Kouhu township were still waiting for help from the Central Government as of yesterday, after the typhoon’s heavy rains caused their township’s dikes to collapse three days ago. Residents were isolated and food supplies had practically run out: each family only had ten packets of instant noodles to see them through. Villagers in the township bitterly complained that the Central Government did not care if they lived or died. “We have nothing to eat,” a village chief said. “Even the instant noodles are nearly used up. We have distributed ten packages to each family and that’s all we can do,” he said. The township of Kouhu has many dikes constructed around it and is irrigated by seawater.

Five villages in the township, amounting to virtually all its south-western regions, have been flooded for three days making it Yunlin’s worst disaster. Fish farms and crop fields have suffered irreparable damage.

Swelling seas are kept at bay by a floodgate at the mouth of a river but there is no means of stopping inland flooding. If the rain does not stop in the area, the disaster is likely to worsen. Isolated from aid from the outside world for the first two days, Kouhu residents were forced to work with the local coast patrol and use traditional means of stopping up holes in the embankments and prevent an inward rush of flood water.

They physically lifted sand bags to block breaks in the dike — but it was hard work and not a job that could be managed successfully without machinery.

Equipment that could stop up the two embankment holes finally arrived Sunday night — but by then the area was suffering from severe floods.

And even when the two breaks in the dikes were temporarily blocked yesterday, the flooding showed no sign of abating.

One way of removing the water was to open the floodgate — but with moody, swelling seas, no one dared try this.

The area’s road transport links were blocked and residents waded their way through water to get to work.

A village chief Lee Teng-chin said he had not slept for two days as he desperately tried to block the holes in the dike.

He said he only prayed that God would not bring more rain to the region.

Further north, in Taichung county, Lin Kuang-yao’s normally lively features were grim. The Atayal elder from Heping village silently surveyed over 100 members of his aboriginal tribe temporarily camped in the activities center of Tungshi township primary school. A mother rocked her one-month-old baby, which slept peacefully, unaware of the disasters that have rocked their little community.

Three severe disasters have hit Tungshi township and neighboring Heping village in five years, making residents fear they will be eternally homeless.

First the area was harshly rocked by the Sept. 21 earthquake in 1999, then later ravaged by Typhoon Toraji. Most recently their village has been savaged by Typhoon Mindulle.

Camped once more on the grounds of a local school, the tribe wondered what their future would be like and what had become of their homes.

Another white-haired Atayal elder, Chu Mu-kuei, had his arm around a little boy, as he said life had been hard for the village ever since the 1999 earthquake. The three natural disasters had made him feel life was intolerable.

He felt he could live relatively easily in the camp but he dreaded returning home.

“The 9-21 earthquake and Typhoon Toraji just make a clean sweep of the area. I thought we had shaken off all these troubles,” he said.

“Now Typhoon Mindulle has brutally swept everything away once more. How are we going to build our homes again?” he asked.

“And if we go somewhere else, where?” he asked. “The mountain areas have all been swept away by floods. There’s nowhere we can work,” he said, referring to the community’s farming skills. A group of people from another village in the same area clustered in a classroom in Hsincheng primary school.

Village chief Pan Chin-cheng said the school would hold activities in three days making their presence inconvenient — but he feared they would have nowhere to go if the roads had not been cleared and their houses were buried in mud.