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3-man crew Taiwan helicopter confirmed dead as rain disrupts typhoon rescue
Taiwan News, Staff Writer
2009-08-12 05:28 PM
TAIPEI (Taiwan News) – Three crew members of a crashed rescue helicopter were confirmed dead Wednesday, but in another area, military began evacuating 700 villagers first believed dead.

The official death toll of Typhoon Morakot rose to 71 Wednesday, with 61 missing and 45 injured. Efforts to evacuate thousands of residents from isolated villages and to deliver food and medical supplies to others met with problems Wednesday as heavy rain returned to the disaster areas, forcing helicopters to stay on the ground.

In the Santimen area of Pingtung County, the three crew members of a National Airborne Service Corps helicopter which crashed Tuesday were confirmed dead after a rescue team reached the site Wednesday.

Pilot Chang Shun-fa, 43, co-pilot Wang Tsung-li, 47, and technician Huang Mei-chih, 42, were on a mission to drop supplies to a remote village when their UH-1H aircraft crashed. Media reports named poor visibility due to bad weather, overloading, and a collision with cables as possible causes for the accident.

The helicopter was more than 30 years old but had passed a recent safety test, the NASC said.

The bodies of the three men were transferred to Neipu where their colleagues lined the street to give them a military salute. Interior Minister Liao Liou-yi was present to bring tribute to the courage of the rescue workers.

The NASC ordered the grounding of all UH-1H aircraft, but the army said it would continue to use its helicopters of the same type.

Meanwhile, the army mobilized more of its helicopters to compensate for the grounding. A total of 33 helicopters would fly 195 missions Wednesday, the NASC said.

In neighboring Kaohsiung County, military rescue teams began the evacuation of more than 700 residents of Hsiaolin and Namahsia villages originally feared buried by mudslides. The special military units moving into the mountains overland discovered the survivors late Tuesday. A local official had taken some of the residents uphill to seek refuge in a workers shelter, reports said.

Earlier rescue efforts had airlifted only dozens of residents by helicopter and found a small group inside a tunnel, giving fuel to reports that as many as 600 of Hsiaolin’s official population of 1,313 might have been buried under the mudslides which destroyed most of the buildings in the area. Even after the latest discoveries, it was still unclear how many residents were missing.

Residents of Hsiaolin evacuated to Chishan over the past few days said they wanted to return home and look for survivors. Heavy rain Wednesday afternoon forced the interruption of helicopter flights.

In the Kaohsiung County township of Taoyuan, a military rescue team met a local official by chance as he was out collecting vegetables to feed 200 people sheltering in an activity center.

The official told the soldiers he had expected the rescue teams to take at least a week to find his village. The residents received supplies of food enough to last them for several days, reports said.

In other parts of Southern Taiwan, rescue efforts also recorded progress in locating typhoon survivors. Rescue teams reached Taiho in Chiayi County overland Wednesday, while helicopters also evacuated more than 100 residents. One of the cargoes was NT$100 million in cash from the local farmers’ association savings bank, reports said.

Roads around scenic Alishan Mountain in Chiayi County were still interrupted or blocked, leaving at least 39 tourists stuck in hotels uphill, reports said. Earlier in the week, a group of Chinese tourists marched through the woods carrying their luggage in an effort to leave the area.

A military rescue team was scheduled to arrive in the main Alishan village Thursday, but more than 6,000 residents were still spread over 12 mostly small aboriginal communities in the area, according to the Cabinet-level Council of Indigenous Peoples.

Utilities were still hard at work to restore water and electricity in the regions hit by the typhoon.

The supply of running water from the Nanhua Reservoir to 370,000 households in the Tainan area was expected to be gradually restored from Thursday noon. Shops ran out of bottled water and residents booked rooms at local motels in the vain hope of finding water to take showers, cable stations reported.

The floods caused the deaths of tens of thousands of pigs, chickens and fish at farms across the south. A plan to treat 40,000 pigs which drowned during the typhoon with chemicals and bury them in Anting, Tainan County, provoked protests Wednesday by local residents fearing pollution.

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