CISHAN, Taiwan — Military helicopters ferried stricken villagers to safety Tuesday from remote Taiwanese communities hit by Typhoon Morakot that left hundreds feared trapped by a torrent of mud and rock that buried their homes.
Choppers hovered over affected villages looking for signs of life. While rains were still falling, floodwaters receded Tuesday, and many of the aircraft were landing to send out squads of soldiers to look for survivors, photos released by the military showed. Special forces found more than 900 people who had fled three villages in the south, according to the military.
One helicopter crashed into a mountain as it flew on a mission to rescue villagers from the island's heavily wooded south, which was worst hit by the storm. Disaster official Chen Chung-hsien said it was unclear if the two pilots and one technician had survived the crash.
Morakot, which means "emerald" in Thai language, dumped as much as 80 inches of rain over the weekend on Taiwan, the worst flooding in 50 years. It then moved on to China, where authorities evacuated 1.5 million people and some 10,000 homes were destroyed.
Eight people have died in three provinces in eastern China, the Civil Affairs Ministry said. Taiwanese authorities put the confirmed death toll from Morakot at 62 and listed 57 people as missing, but that does not include residents in the village of Shiao Lin, where several hundred remain unaccounted for after a mudslide buried their farming settlement on Sunday.
Dazed and bewildered
Officials said more than 300 people were brought out Tuesday on up to 120 helicopter flights to an improvised landing zone at Cishan Junior High School. The people, many looking dazed and bewildered, came from Shiao Lin and surrounding villages.
At the landing strip, a Taiwanese army Huey helicopter arrived with three women from the mudslide-ravaged area on one of Tuesday's last flights. They were led to a waiting van and driven off to a shelter housing victims of the disaster.
On the fringes of the landing strip, anxious relatives waited for words of their loved ones.
"I have seven relatives in Shiao Lin whom I haven't heard from since Aug. 8," said one woman who gave her surname as Chen. "I beg the government to do something to help them."
Slideshow: Typhoon's wrath Cishan itself is without water supply and many surrounding communities remain cut off because floodwaters have washed out roads. On the outskirts of the town, soldiers were helping local residents dig the mud from their homes and businesses.
Later, army special forces found another 200 survivors from Shiao Lin sheltering in a nearby field, said Major General Hu Jui-chou. Meanwhile, more than 500 from Min Tsu village and 200 from Chin He village were also rescued, according to Hu and Lieutenant Colonel Tai Chan-te. All three villages are near one another.
Hundreds may still be trapped in remote villages, though the exact number of people missing, including in worst-hit Shiao Lin, remained unclear. The village's isolation complicated reporting about its fate. Shiao Lin was cut off after floodwaters destroyed a bridge about eight miles (12 kilometers) away. Access to the area is still restricted to the military.
Taiwan's National Fire Agency said 100 villagers were buried alive when the mudslide hit, though it did not offer details to back up that assessment. Some of the 30 residents of Shiao Lin who were among those rescued Monday said the figure was far higher — perhaps as many as 600.
‘Two loud bangs’
A woman rescued Monday told Taiwan's China Times newspaper that she fled with her husband and their baby from their two-story Shiao Lin home minutes before the mudslide buried it.
"We heard two loud bangs," the woman surnamed Chi was quoted as saying. "The sky was filled with dust like a volcanic eruption, and flood waters, mud and rocks streamed onto the roads."
Television footage showed the streets of another village covered by thick mud and rubble. A 51-year-old man from Jilai village was swept 1.2 miles away when the mudslides that struck Shiao Lin rushed down a nearby mountain. According to news reports, he survived by holding on to a log.
After pummeling Taiwan, Morakot slammed into China's Fujian province, bringing heavy rain and winds of 74 miles per hour, according to the China Meteorological Administration.
Authorities ordered 1.5 million people to leave the area, sending them to schools, government offices, hospitals and the homes of relatives, where they will remain until the rain stops and waters recede, the Civil Affairs Ministry said.
Morakot damaged or destroyed more than 10,000 homes and flooded over 1 million acres of cropland, the ministry said. It said direct economic losses have been estimated at 9.7 billion yuan.
The heavy rains triggered a massive landslide in Pengxi, a town in Wenzhou city of eastern China's Zhejiang province, destroying seven three-story apartment buildings at the foot of a mountain late Monday, an official surnamed Chen from the Pengxi government told The Associated Press.
Xinhua reported that an unknown number of residents were buried in the landslide, though Chen put the number at six. All were pulled out alive but two later died of their injuries, he said.
Morakot also left 23 dead in the Philippines.
In Japan, Etau killed 13 people, after a 6.5 magnitude earthquake tossed food and bottles from store shelves, disrupted transport and shut down a nuclear power plant for safety checks.
Japan's weather agency warned of possible landslides and flooding, as the quake followed heavy rain. TV pictures showed one motorway partially washed out.
In addition to the 13 dead in Japan, 15 residents were reported missing in the western prefectures of Hyogo and Okayama.
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Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.