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Vol. 73/No. 33      August 31, 2009

(front page)
Slow gov’t response to typhoon
spurs growing anger in Taiwan
Pingtung, Taiwan, August 16, a week after Typhoon Morakot hit region.

Floods and mudslides unleashed by Typhoon Morakot swept across Taiwan over the August 8-9 weekend killing at least 500 people and stranding thousands in mountainous villages. It is the latest example of how class inequalities are exposed by “natural disasters.”

The typhoon dumped more than 80 inches of rain on Taiwan that weekend. Indigenous Taiwanese tribes, including the Rukai and Paiwan, living in the mountainous southern parts of the island, were the hardest hit by the storm. In Shiao Lin mudslides buried some 200 houses and the village’s only school, survivors told the Wall Street Journal. Taiwan president Ma Ying-jeou estimates 380 were killed there, but surviving residents have said those buried in the debris number at least 600.

President Ma said that the typhoon destroyed the homes of 7,000 people and caused agricultural and property damage of more than $1.5 billion on the island.

Anger by local residents has grown over the government’s slow response in conducting rescue operations. In a visit to a soccer field holding rescued survivors in Chishan August 12 Taiwan’s president “was besieged by angry villagers who accused his administration of moving too slowly to help those still trapped in the mountains near here,” reported the New York Times. “‘Save us, people are dying,’ the villagers yelled while holding aloft handmade banners that read ‘The government doesn’t value human life.’”

Six days after the typhoon struck the island, government officials estimated that about 2,000 people were still trapped in some areas, many with no access to food, water, electricity, transportation, or phone lines. Workers have initiated their own rescue operations, and more than 20,000 troops have joined them in this and cleanup work, Taiwanese officials told the Washington Post. The government said that as of August 14, about 31,000 people have been pulled from villages inundated by mudslides and floodwaters.

For days after the typhoon swept through the island Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs rejected any foreign assistance to help with rescue operations. Ministry spokesman Henry Chen told the Taipei Times August 12 that the government would seek such help if necessary, “but so far, we are still handling [the situation] well.” The following day the Taiwanese cabinet reversed this decision. It also appealed for heavy-lift helicopters needed to bring bulldozers deep into the mountains, the New York Times said.

According to the Taiwan News, the government waited five-and-a-half days from the time the typhoon struck to draw up a list of necessary aid items, such as medical supplies to counter contagious diseases and epidemics.

In China 1.4 million people were evacuated and 48,000 vessels recalled to ports in Fujian province prior to the storm’s arrival. Six people were killed by the typhoon as of August 10, according to Xinhua news agency. More than 5,000 houses were destroyed in Zhejiang and Fujian provinces along China’s east coast.

The Chinese government has donated about $19 million for Taiwan’s typhoon relief. The United States and Japan are contributing $250,000 and $103,000, respectively, reports Agence France-Presse. Meanwhile, the U.S. military has said it is ready to send troops, equipment, and supplies, several military sources told CNN August 14.  
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