The number of people killed in Taiwan by Typhoon Morakot, a destructive storm that swept through East Asia last week, could triple because hundreds of people are feared trapped under mudslides, the president’s office said Friday.
The official toll from the typhoon was 118 but could jump to more than 300, with as many as 200 feared buried under five stories of mud in the badly-hit village of Shiao Lin, presidential spokesman Wang Yuchi said. Rescuers were on Friday trying to determine if the mud was stable enough to bring in excavators to begin searching for bodies. Since the typhoon made landfall over the weekend, more than 31,000 people have been pulled from villages inundated by mudslides and floodwaters, according to official government figures. But in remote mountainous areas of Kaohsiung County, where Shiao Lin is located, rescue efforts have been hampered by torrential downpours, dense fog, rugged terrain and raging rivers. Washed out roads and bridges rendered ground rescue operations virtually impossible in the central and southern regions of the island, the National Disaster Prevention and Protection Commission said. Watch challenges facing rescuers » Typhoon Morakot dropped about three meters (118 inches) of rain on southern and central parts of this island last week. After hitting Taiwan, it roared on to mainland China, killing at least six people and displacing 1.4 million, authorities said. The typhoon has prompted and international aid effort, with more than 30 countries offering money, helicopters, medication or other supplies.
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Officials from Hong Kong said they would recommend sending H.K. $50 million (U.S. $6.45 million) in aid. The aid request needed to get final authorization. Taiwanese President Ma Ying toured the Jiadong and Linbian townships in Pingtung County Thursday, then visited Kaohsiung County, where a wall of mud had cut off Shiao Lin. Survivor Chen Chiu Lian, 76, told how she and her grandson swam for their lives when the storm hit Shiao Lin, destroying all but their home. She said: “I had just finished eating. My grandson was taking a nap. It rained and rained. There was water to my left and to my right … The next day, it was still raining. “Our house was like a boat. The water was like an ocean. How can you escape There was no way to escape.
“My grandson told me to swim. I was swimming and crawling through the water and debris.” Watch her story of survival » Meanwhile, nearly 1,700 people were rescued Thursday from areas devastated by the storm, and a government spokeswoman said she believed “the situation is getting better.” Watch a grandmother and children being pulled to safety by basic means »