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Record typhoon rain leaves trail of destruction across Southern Taiwan
Taiwan News, Staff Writer
2009-08-09 04:37 PM
TAIPEI (Taiwan News) – Record rainfall caused widespread flooding across Southern Taiwan in the wake of Typhoon Morakot Sunday, forcing thousands of people from their homes and ravaging bridges, roads and buildings.

The worst reports of flooding came from the counties of Kaohsiung, Pingtung and Taitung at the country’s southern tip, but the rains would threaten Central Taiwan for the next two days, the Central Weather Bureau said.

The official death toll reached three, with 19 people injured and 31 missing, the authorities said. A total of 6,301 people had been evacuated. The dead included a 78-year-old man who was found dead near his home in Hsinhua, Tainan County, and a 63-year-old who had been unable to flee when his home in Kaoshu, Pingtung County, was flooded.

The levels of rainfall broke records, reaching between 2,500 and 2,900 millimeters for the past few days, levels higher than during flooding on August 7, 1959 which killed more than 600 people, mostly in the southwest.

The rainfall set one-day records Saturday, with one location, the Weiliao Mountain in Pingtung County, recording 1,403 millimeter, the highest ever for Taiwan. Of the ten highest one-day rainfall amounts, nine were reached on Saturday, the Central Weather Bureau said.

In one of the most spectacular consequences of the typhoon Sunday, a six-story hotel collapsed into a river in Chihpen, a popular hot springs destination in Taitung County. The three-decade-old Jinshuai Hotel, which was originally separated from the riverbank by several shops, was seen listing Sunday morning, before falling sideways into the water by noon.

The 22 staff members and 300 guests had left the building before it collapsed, reports said. Police later cordoned off the area to keep away sightseers.

The main bridge giving access to Chihpen was closed off after cracks appeared, leaving 300 people isolated. The military said it would build a temporary bridge. The city’s main road also saw a stretch of 200 meters disappear.

A total of 14 people were reported missing after water swept away a Water Resources Agency dormitory housing 30 workers in the Kaohsiung County township of Taoyuan. Helicopters were mobilized to find the missing workers.

A portion of the Shuangyuan Bridge, an important link between Kaohsiung and Pingtung Counties, collapsed into the Gaoping River early Sunday. Two cars carrying three people were seen sliding into the river. The 2-kilometer-long bridge links Linyuan in Kaohsiung County with Hsinyuan in Pingtung County.

Visiting the scene, Transportation Minister Mao Chi-kuo said flood control work on the river bed would be needed before the bridge could be rebuilt.

In Shuili, Nantou County, five cars were reported to have been swept away by the water with at least four people missing.

Pingtung County reported the most widespread flooding. Four bridges in the region were damaged and 16 others closed off.

In Linpien, one of the worst affected townships Saturday, water levels were falling, allowing residents out to go and buy food for the first time in three days. Premier Liu Chao-shiuan visited the area and said he would stay overnight.

In the other heavily hit Pingtung County township of Chiatung, the situation was still critical. The evacuation of 7,000 residents began early Sunday.

Helicopters lifted eight civilians and eight rescuers off a sandbank in a river in Chiuju, also in Pingtung County.

Tanei in Tainan County reported 4,000 residents cut off from the outside world. The military showed up with dinghies to evacuate people.

Reports of flooding and landslides, collapsed roads and bridges, and people swept away by rivers came in from several areas during the day.

The Central Weather Bureau warned that even though the typhoon had moved away, torrential rain was still likely to continue and to move north, endangering areas in Central Taiwan from Taichung to Miaoli. Late Sunday afternoon, strong rains were reported from Taichung City, with partial flooding on the town’s prominent Chungkang Road thoroughfare.

The aftermath of the typhoon also still caused havoc with traffic. Landslides and flooding left 91 roads across the country damaged or completely cut off, leaving hundreds of residents and travelers stranded.

High speed trains heading from Taipei to Kaohsiung unexpectedly went no further than Taichung, causing friction between passengers and staff. Conventional rail traffic between Changhua and Kaohsiung was cut until 3 p.m., but later resumed for the stretch between Changhua and Chiayi, reports said.

Agricultural losses amounted to NT$2.11 billion Sunday, with levels of damage in Kaohsiung, Pingtung, Tainan, Taitung and Hualien Counties reaching disaster status, making farmers in those regions eligible for special relief subsidies and low-interest loans, the Council of Agriculture said. Banana growers were the worst hit, losing more than 3,200 hectares worth of crops, according to provisional COA data.

The COA issued red alerts for landslides in 519 locations, while the Ministry of Education said the typhoon had damaged 268 schools. State utility Taiwan Power Corp. said 1.4 million households lost electricity.

In Southern Taiwan alone, hundreds of thousands of residents were left without running water, with restoring their supplies expected to take up to seven days, according to the Water Resources Agency.

During a visit to Chiayi, President Ma Ying-jeou ordered the establishment of a special disaster emergency response center for the South, while emphasizing the importance of food relief and prevention of further flooding. He ordered rubber dinghies transferred from Northern to Southern Taiwan. Ma earlier canceled a visit to Taitung after the local airport was closed.

Interior Minister Liao Liou-yi was to take charge of the Southern Taiwan emergency center, the government announced later.

The authorities in Hsinyi, Jenai and Shuili, mountainous parts of Nantou County prone to frequent landslides, said schools and offices on its territory would remain closed Monday. Tainan County closed its schools, but offices would be open Monday.

Kaohsiung County Magistrate Yang Chiu-hsing arrived from Europe Sunday, defending his decision to travel overseas by pointing out that the Central Weather Bureau had predicted the worst rain for Northwest Taiwan. The eye of Typhoon Morakot passed across Northern Taiwan from late Friday to Saturday afternoon, but most of the rain fell in the South.

Foreign trips by county magistrates during typhoons triggered widespread criticism last year.

Taipei County Magistrate Chou Hsi-wei lashed out at several local mayors Saturday for being away on overseas study trips.

Tainan City Mayor Hsu Tain-tsair criticized the military for its slow response. The armed forces mobilized nearly 3,000 soldiers to help with the evacuation of victims and to bring to supplies to isolated villages, sometimes in armored vehicles.

Humanitarian foundations, religious and political groups called for aid to Southern Taiwan Sunday. Bottled water and dry foods were the most necessary items, reports said. Local governments set up aid collection centers. Opposition Democratic Progressive Party Chairwoman Tsai Ing-wen donated NT$1 million, her party said.

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