APTOPIX Taiwan Asia Storm
Wally Santana  /  AP
Taiwan military soldiers rescue a villager on an emergency cable strung across the Ba Si Lan river in Sinfa, Taiwan, on Thursday, five days after flash-flooding from Typhoon Morakot swamped the village.
updated 8/13/2009 5:55:22 PM ET 2009-08-13T21:55:22

Barefoot and helmeted, the frightened survivors of deadly Typhoon Morakot dangled high over jagged rocks and a raging river Thursday as soldiers hauled them to safety one by one along a 100-foot-long cable.

On the far side, a few dozen waited near a hand-painted sign on the craggy foundation of a destroyed bridge: "32 people died here SOS."

The perilous rescue was part of a massive military effort to save hundreds of stranded villagers after the worst flooding to hit Taiwan in 50 years. Some 14,000 villagers have been rescued since the typhoon struck five days ago; hundreds more are feared missing or dead.

As criticism mounted Thursday over Taiwan's response to the disaster, the government dispatched another 4,000 troops to work with the 14,000 already deployed. Many of them are working in Kaohsiung County, a mountainous farming region in southern Taiwan.

The rugged terrain and widespread devastation played havoc with rescue efforts following the storm, which dumped 80 inches of rain on the island over the weekend.

Soldiers in fatigues and heavy gloves resorted to using a makeshift zipline to haul survivors from the village of Sinkai over the Ba Si Lan River where the bridge was wiped out. For hours they labored, rescuing everyone from a young boy in shorts to an elderly woman who brought along a couple of shopping bags worth of belongings.

'My life will never be the same'
Unbuckled from their harnesses, villagers looked dazed and frightened as they recalled the harrowing night of Aug. 8.

"It rained for days," said Li Wen-chuan, a grizzled-looking man of 68 with sparse salt-and-pepper hair, teeth stained red by years of betel nut chewing. "But the flood came so suddenly and with a tremendous roar. It destroyed everything in the village."

Video: Typhoon victims

"This is the worst thing that has ever happened to me," he said, adding that many of the 32 who died in village were friends and family. "My life will never be the same."

Pan Yi-chang, a 32-year-old mother of two, said that when the rains spawned by Morakot began to fall, she had no inkling that this typhoon would be any different from others.

The ravaged villages — most of them scattered in neighboring townships in northern Kaohsiung County — are typically located next to mountains, and they usually have to brace for mudslides during Taiwan's annual typhoon season during June to September.

But this time was different, residents said.

"Everything happened so fast. Flooding just destroyed everything," said Pan, adding that she was lucky because all of her family survived — her husband, her two children and her mother and father.

As she spoke, Pan gazed longingly across the river toward the only home she has ever known, a close-knit community of 1,000 whose economy is based on growing mangos and guavas.

In the background, a heavy mist enveloped the summit of a nearby mountain and torrents of water cascaded down its dark green facades.

'I have no other place to go'
Scores of villages in the rural south of Taiwan were devastated by the typhoon. One of the worst affected is Shiao Lin, where hundreds remain missing after a catastrophic mudslide spawned by days of torrential rain.

Image: Soldiers help typhoon victims in Taiwan
Reuters
Soldiers help survivors evacuate from the mudslide-hit village of Laiji on Thursday.
Taiwan's official death toll from the storm now stands at 108, with another 62 listed as missing. That does not include the toll in Shiao Lin and other remote communities.

Many of those rescued say they can never return to their villages because there is nothing left to return to.

Li, the grizzled veteran of Sinkai, is not one of them.

"I am going back," he said. "Sinkai is where my roots are. I have no other place to go."

Many complained that the government was too slow to mobilize the rescue and cleanup effort, saying more victims could have been saved if they had moved sooner and faster.

"Why does the government say only useless things?" a woman eager to learn the fate of relatives trapped in Kaochung village in the south asked. With tears filling her eyes, she told TV reporters: "I've been waiting for several days, yet there has not been anyone going to rescue my family."

No forced evacuations
In a short interview with CNN, President Ma Ying-jeou blamed the severe damage brought by the flooding on villagers' inability to get out of their communities before the storm.

Authorities in Kaohsiung County did ask inhabitants from the villages most severely battered by Morakot to leave before the storm, but they did not try to forcibly remove the residents, and some villagers decided against leaving.

"They were not fully prepared. If they were, they should have been evacuated much earlier," Ma said. "They didn't realize how serious the disaster was."

Ma did not comment on whether the government was doing enough to help with the evacuation.

Troops were working Thursday to restore severed roads, rehabilitate ravaged neighborhood and ferry typhoon victims to safety in dozens of helicopter missions.

So far some 14,000 villagers have been rescued — including 600 on Thursday, the island's disaster relief center said.

Another 2,000 villagers were staying either in open fields or on higher ground and waiting to be taken to shelters, it said. Several hundred more — no one is sure how many — remain unaccounted for and are feared lost in the mudslides.

More on: Taiwan

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Photos: Typhoon slams Taiwan, China, Japan

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  1. A soldier smells the ground while looking for the bodies of flood victims in the mudslide-affected village of Sinkai, southern Taiwan, Monday, August 17. (Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. A farm severely damaged by a landslide in a scenic township in the southern Chiayi county of Taiwan Monday. (AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Stranded villagers cross a makeshift bamboo bridge over raging floodwater in Hsinfa village, in the Luikuei township of southern Taiwan's Kaohsiung county on Saturday, August 15. (Peter Parks / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Taiwanese people carry supply goods for victims to the the flooded village of Maolin, southern Taiwan, following Typhoon Morakot, Saturday. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Local residents survey the results of a mudslide, including a half submerged home near the flooded river in Pingtung County, in the typhoon devastated area of southern Taiwan, Friday, August 14. (Ferre Huang / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. A relative holds the hand of a survivor from the landslide-affected villages at Chishan evacuation centre, southern Taiwan, Friday. (Pichi Chuang / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Relatives continue to wait with hopes of rescued family members to emerge from helicopters at an emergency landing zone in Cishan, southern Taiwan, Friday. (Wally Santana / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. This image shows a extensive mountain area of mudslide in Kaohsiung county following Typhoon Morakot, Thursday, Aug. 13. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Taiwanese soldiers march on their way to Liukuei, Kaohsiung county, Taiwan, Thursday. (Imaginechina) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Victims gathered in a helicopter after they evacuate flooded village Baolai following Typhoon Morakot, Thursday in southern Taiwan. (Pool via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. This image shows an extensive river area of mudslide Thursday in Chishan following Typhoon Morakot in Kaohsiung County, southern Taiwan. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Members of the military help locals cut off from Typhoon Morakot after they landed by helicopter in Chiayi County, central Taiwan. (Taiwan Military News Agency / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. A man walks along the bank of a river filled with wood and debris washed down by Typhoon Morakot in Chishen, southern Taiwan, on Wednesday, Aug. 12. (Sam Yeh / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Rescued residents who were trapped following Typhoon Morakot arrive in Cishan, Taiwan, to get medical care on Wednesday, Aug. 12. (Ferre Huang / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. A body found in the debris and floodwaters of Typhoon Morakot is recovered in Cishan on Wednesday. (Wally Santana / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Damage and debris is seen on a bridge as flood waters from Typhoon Morakot recede in southern Taiwan on Wednesday. (Wally Santana / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. A rescuer glides on a rope across a river in the flooded village of Liugui on Wednesday. (Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. A Chinese farmer keeps ducks in his submerged kitchen on Tuesday in the flooded town of Pingyao. (Lin Yl / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. A statue of Buddha's head is seen submerged in flood water and debris from Typhoon Morakot at a temple in Kaohsiung County, southern Taiwan on Tuesday. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Damaged buildings are seen Tuesday after Typhoon Morakot swept through Kaohsiung County in southern Taiwan. (Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Residents look at debris after a massive landslide toppled seven houses in Taishun, eastern China, on Tuesday. (AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. A woman wipes tears from her face as she waits in a shelter in Neiman, southern Taiwan, on Tuesday for family members to be found. (Pichi Chuang / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Troops search for typhoon survivors in Shiaolin, southern Taiwan, on Tuesday. (AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. A man walks on a road damaged by Typhoon Morakot in Tainan county, in southern Taiwan, on Tuesday. (Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. A catfish is stranded on a road in Sayo, Japan, on Monday, Aug. 11, after Typhoon Etau swept through the area. (Sankei / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. Soldiers transport residents and aid supplies in Taichung, Taiwan, on Monday, after Typhoon Morakot struck the area. (Imaginechina) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. Boarder guards stack piles of sandbags to reinforce the bank of a dock near Wanda Oil Depot in Zhejiang Province, Monday. (Jia Ce / Zuma Press) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. Residents make their way across a flooded street on a makeshift raft after typhoon Morakot hit Cangnan county of Wenzhou, Zhejiang province, on Monday. (Lang Lang / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  29. The streets of Cangnan is flooded on Monday in east China's Zhejiang Province. (Photomall / Zuma Press) Back to slideshow navigation
  30. Medical personnel rush children to a military helicopter from a landslide-affected village after Typhoon Morakot hammered Taiwan on Monday, Aug. 10. (Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  31. A landslide levels houses Monday in Mimisaka, Japan. (Sankei / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  32. A motorist with her head covered struggles to ride a scooter amid strong winds caused by typhoon Morakot in Nanjing, China, on Monday. (Jeff Xu / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  33. A man passes an overturned truck following typhoon Etau in Sayo, western Japan, Monday. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  34. Extensive flooding blankets Pingtung county in southern Taiwan following typhoon Morakot on Monday. (Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  35. Commuters row a dragon boat through a flooded area in Cangnan county, in east China's Zhejiang province on Monday. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  36. A woman is carried from a helicopter after being airlifted from the southern village of Hsiaolin in Taiwan's Kaohsiung county on Monday. (AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  37. A man trapped by flooding gestures at rescuers delivering food and drinking water after typhoon Morakot hit Pingtung county in southern Taiwan on Sunday, Aug. 9. (Pichi Chuang / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  38. A six-story hotel in Chihpen, Taiwan, collapses and plunges into a river after floodwaters eroded its base as typhoon Morakot passed through the area on Sunday. All 300 people in the hotel were evacuated and uninjured, officials said. Typhoon Morakot slammed into China's east coast just hours after nearly 1 million people evacuated the area. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  39. Water flows past a damaged bridge previously linking Pingtung and Kaohsiung, in southern Taiwan, on Sunday. (Sam Yeh / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  40. Chinese villagers try to salvage fish along ponds submerged by flooding after heavy rain caused by Typhoon Morakot in Hongshan village, Fujian province, Sunday. (Imaginechina) Back to slideshow navigation
  41. A woman rests in a temporary evacuation center in Chiatung, in southern Taiwan, on Sunday. (Patrick Lin / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  42. Soldiers evacuate a stranded resident to a safe area as Typhoon Morakot hits Wenzhou, Zhejiang Province, on Sunday. (China Daily / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  43. A man holds a baby as a family is rescued from flooding brought by Typhoon Morakot in Chiatung, in southern Taiwan, on Sunday. (Sam Yeh / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  44. Rescuers try to get hold of a man who was stranded by floods as Typhoon Morakot approaches Shanghai on Sunday, Aug. 9. A child was killed and houses were flattened after the typhoon battered China's eastern coast, bringing torrential rain and high waves likely to disrupt life and business across the heavily commercial region. (Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  45. Rescuers help residents trapped by floods caused by Typhoon Morakot tin Chiatung, in southern Taiwan, on Sunday, Aug. 9 (Sam Yeh / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  46. A man walks on sandbags piled to block rising waters from a river in a flooded village in Cangnan county, eastern China, on Sunday. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  47. A Taiwanese woman looks at floodwater from her half submerged home after Typhoon Morakot hit Pintung county, southern Taiwan, on Sunday, Aug. 9. The storm dumped more than 80 inches of rain on some southern counties on Friday and Saturday, the worst flooding to hit the area in half a century. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  48. A Chinese villager looks at soldiers repairing a section of seawall damaged by waves caused by Typhoon Morakot in Fuxing village, southeast Fujian province, on Saturday, Aug. 8. (Imaginechina) Back to slideshow navigation
  49. A young Chinese woman close tries to hold her umbrella in wind caused by Typhoon Morakot in Hangzhou city, Zhejiang province, on Friday, Aug. 7. (Shi Jianxue / Imaginechina) Back to slideshow navigation
  50. Soldiers and survivors unload provisions for victims in the flooded village Baolai following Typhoon Morakot, Thursday, Aug. 13, in Kaohsiung County, southern Taiwan. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
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