* Military to examine response times after Typhoon Morakot
* Officials probe causes of mudslide that buried village
* Rescue work eases as villagers decline to leave mountains
By Ralph Jennings
TAIPEI, Aug 17 (Reuters) - Taiwan officials began searching for explanations amid widespread criticism over disaster response times as rescue efforts eased on Monday after one of the country’s worst typhoons, which killed an estimated 500 people.
Although a military-led rescue effort involving 181,000 personnel has saved more than 8,200 people, the defence ministry will consider accepting blame, an official said on Monday.
Slow-moving Typhoon Morakot, Taiwan’s worst in 50 years which triggered widespread landslides with record rainfall from Aug. 7-9, has tarnished the image of President Ma Ying-jeou, who is under fire for perceptions that he didn’t respond fast enough.
"We will look at who’s at fault and if there’s any responsibility for us to take, we will take it," Deputy Defence Minister Huang Yi-bing told a news conference. "We will conduct a review to see if we could have done better."
The cabinet may also discuss a reshuffle later this week, a government news official said.
Ma’s Nationalist Party (KMT) may suffer in local elections in December, analysts say, although the worst-hit counties normally vote anyway for the opposition.
Authorities have also started seeking causes for the worst landslide, which buried the southern Taiwan village of Hsiao Lin, likely killing more than 300 as houses were flattened in what became a valley of mud and rocks dozens of metres deep.
Any relation between the slide and a tunnel dug near the village has been ruled out as a cause, said Chen Shen-hsien, director-general of Taiwan’s Water Resources Agency.
It is unclear whether other construction or agricultural irregularities may have destabilised the steep mountainsides, contributing to the severity of the landslide, he said.
Angry relatives of those killed are demanding answers, local media said.
"If we don’t find a good way to prevent these problems, then they will keep happening," Chen said at the news conference.
After declining foreign non-monetary aid days earlier, Taiwan was expecting the arrival of a CH-53E helicopter, the U.S. military’s biggest and heaviest, on Monday to help with disaster relief.
The first U.S. military aircraft, a C-130 cargo plane, to land in Taiwan in three decades reached the island on Sunday with building materials for reconstruction. [ID:nLG238716]
More than 60 countries have donated about T$68 million ($2 million) in cash as well as other relief supplies.
Rescue work eased on Monday as military search crews had canvassed the whole disaster area and many survivors chose not to leave the mountains, said Hu Jui-chou, an army major general.
The typhoon has caused 126 confirmed deaths, severed 248 road segments and caused T$12.2 billion in agricultural damage.
(Editing by Ken Wills and Sugita Katyal)