By PETER ENAV, Associated Press Writer Peter Enav, Associated Press Writer – 57 mins ago
CISHAN, Taiwan – Rescuers have found nearly 1,000 people alive in the area around three remote villages devastated by Typhoon Morakot, which pummeled the island over the weekend, Taiwan's military said Wednesday.
Hundreds more are missing and feared dead in Kaohsiung county, which bore the brunt of the storm, though the official death toll stood at 63, and authorities could only confirm 61 missing.
While other areas of the country were hit hard, rescuers were focusing their efforts on Kaohsiung, believing most of those unaccounted for could be trapped there. But continuing heavy rains were wreaking havoc on their efforts.
On Wednesday, only a few dozen army helicopters were able to ferry survivors to safety in Cishan, where a makeshift landing zone was set on at a school. The day before 300 people who escaped mudslides and still looked dazed were plucked from Shiao Lin village and its surroundings.
Since that rescue, another 270 people have been spotted near the village, which was destroyed by a mudslide Sunday. Major General Hu Jui-chou said 500 survivors were also found in Min Tzu and 200 in Chin He.
Morakot, which means "emerald" in the Thai language, struck the Philippines, Taiwan and China and left at least 93 people dead, most of them in Taiwan. It dumped as much as 80 inches (two meters) of rain on the island before moving on to China, where authorities evacuated 1.5 million people and some 10,000 homes were destroyed.
A major concern for relief officials remained Shiao Lin, cut off from the outside world since Sunday's mudslides.
Video taken by TV station ETTV showed the village buried in tons of mud and rubbles, with only two of its structures left standing. The only sign of life in the village, the ETTV video showed, was a sodden cat hiding in a crack under the rubble.
Luo Shun-chi, 36, who escaped from Shiao Lin shortly after Sunday's mudslide, told The Associated Press that he did not know how many of his fellow villagers remained alive.
He said that between 500 and 600 people were in Shiao Lin at the time of the disaster — far fewer than the 1,300 people listed in Taiwan's population registry.
Taiwan's National Fire Agency has said 100 people were under the mud in Shiao Lin, but didn't offer any evidence to back up that claim.
Luo said that whatever the Shiao Lin death toll, he was never going back.
"The place is finished," he said. "There is no way I could return."
Outside of Taiwan, Morakot also claimed 22 lives in the Philippines. After pummeling Taiwan, Morakot slammed into China's Fujian province, bringing heavy rain and winds of 74 miles (119 kilometers) 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 has said.
Morakot damaged or destroyed more than 10,000 homes and flooded over 1 million acres (400,000 hectares) of cropland, the ministry said. It said direct economic losses have been estimated at 9.7 billion yuan ($1.4 billion).
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.
A separate storm, Typhoon Etau, moved away from Japan's eastern coast Wednesday after killing at least 18 people and leaving nine others missing, officials said.
Most were swept away by rain-swollen rivers or killed in landslides and floods, police said.
Associated Press writer Shino Yuasa in Tokyo contributed to this report.