Image: Massive mudslides in southern Taiwan
Pool via AP
The flooding that followed Typhoon Morakot spawned massive mudslides like this one, shown on Thursday, in Kaohsiung County, southern Taiwan.
updated 8/14/2009 9:50:14 PM ET 2009-08-15T01:50:14

Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou sharply raised the expected death toll from Typhoon Morakot to more than 500 amid mounting criticism of his handling of the worst storm to strike the island in 50 years.

Ma gave the new estimate to a national security conference Friday, the first called since he took office 15 months ago.

It dramatically raised the previous toll by concluding that 380 of about 600 people living in the mountainous village of Shiao Lin in southern Taiwan perished when flash flooding unleashed calamitous mudslides that buried the community early Sunday.

"The estimated death toll so far has been 120 people," the president told the conference. "In addition about 380 people died in Shiao Lin, so the total death toll will exceed 500."

National security conferences are only held when Taiwan faces extremely serious disasters or grave situations in defense or diplomatic affairs.

Criticism of Ma's handling of the Morakot disaster is rising quickly — even within Ma's own party and in media outlets normally friendly to the president.

Much of the criticism focused on comments he made Thursday to Britain's Independent Television News in which he appeared to blame Morakot victims for their own fate.

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

'Not presidential'
Taiwan's normally pro-Ma China Times newspaper lambasted the president for the remarks, saying they were badly out of place.

"It is not presidential to tell international media that the blame falls on people who would not evacuate in order to safeguard their own homes," the newspaper said.

Ma also has come under fire for his handling of government efforts to save storm victims and help the island's hard-hit south recover.

"If we expect the people to do everything themselves, what do we need a government for?" chided lawmaker Lo Shu-lei of Ma's ruling Nationalist Party. Ma "seems to be out of the loop and doesn't understand the way the relief system works," she said.

The criticism is significant because Ma has embarked on an aggressive campaign to improve relations with rival China, from which Taiwan split amid civil war in 1949. While most people still back the reconciliation efforts, support is slipping amid opposition claims that they are making Taiwan economically dependent on the mainland and undermining its de facto independence.

Video: Typhoon tragedy Should the impression be created that Ma failed badly in responding to the Morakot challenge, support for his China initiative could falter further as more people question his overall leadership ability.

Morakot dumped more than 80 inches of rain on the island last weekend and stranded thousands in villages in the mountainous south. A total of 15,400 villagers have been ferried to safety, and rescuers are working to save another 1,900 people. The storm destroyed the homes of 7,000 people and caused agricultural and property damage in excess of $1.5 billion, Ma told the security conference.

Rescuers have relied on helicopters to reach the worst-hit areas, and on Thursday authorities requested larger choppers from foreign governments capable of carrying earth-moving equipment and shelters.

Many villagers have conducted their own rescue operations. More than 20,000 troops have joined civilian workers in rescue, cleanup and rehabilitation work, officials said.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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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