August 21, 2009 / 6:19 AM / 10 years ago

Over 600 dead or missing in Taiwan

TAIPEI (Reuters) - More than 600 people were listed dead or missing in Taiwan on Friday after one of the island’s worst typhoons as the military began digging up bodies buried deep under rocks and mud.

A soldier smells the ground while looking for the bodies of flood victims in the mudslide-affected village of Sinkai, following Typhoon Morakot in Kaohsiung County, southern Taiwan August 17, 2009. REUTERS/Stringer

Taiwan’s disaster center has logged 153 deaths since Typhoon Morakot as well as 464 people missing and feared buried in landslides that wiped out parts of villages in the island’s southern mountains.

Local media have said Taiwan is heading for a cabinet reshuffle amid criticism of the government’s response to the worst floods in 50 years after the typhoon dumped record rainfall in the country from August 7-9.

President Ma Ying-jeou, whose popularity has plummeted over widespread perceptions of slow or chaotic responses to the storm, received a pledge from the military to start digging up bodies per survivor requests, his spokesman said.

“He knows it’s hard, but he hopes it can be done,” spokesman Tony Wang said as Ma visited villages where relatives searched for family under landslides tens of meters thick that had wiped out houses. “The military will do everything possible.”

Hsinkai, a village where 32 are feared buried, will be unearthed within a week, army Major General Hu Jui-chou said.

But survivors from the hardest-hit village of Hsiao Lin, where hundreds are presumed buried, have not decided whether they want the military to dig for bodies, Wang said.

Ma, facing his worst crisis since being elected president in May 2008, has said his administration would investigate the government response to Morakot by early September and come up with names of those held responsible.

The typhoon also destroyed part of the infrastructure in southern Taiwan, including 260 segments of road.

As disaster aid comes in from overseas, a legislator visiting Beijing was offered a 20 million yuan ($2.9 million) donation from Taiwan’s political rival China to help aboriginals, who were the most affected by landslides, Chinese media reported.

But the legislator will be questioned when she returns because of laws that require donations from China to go through registered organizations, a government official said.

China has claimed sovereignty over self-ruled Taiwan since 1949, when Mao Zedong’s Communists won the Chinese civil war and Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalists fled to the island. Beijing has vowed to bring Taiwan under its rule, by force if necessary.

“We don’t know how she plans to use the money,” said Liu Te-shun, vice chairman of Taiwan’s China policy-making body. “Is she receiving it for herself or on behalf of someone else?”

China has also donated typhoon aid through official channels.

Reporting by Ralph Jennings; Editing by Sugita Katyal

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