Taiwan must airlift many typhoon victims: govt
Soldiers searched typhoon-devastated areas for survivors and bodies Monday as more than 1,600 people waited to be airlifted to safety nine days after Typhoon Morakot struck Taiwan.
The official death toll rose to 126, but President Ma Ying-jeou has warned that the number could climb to more than 500, with hundreds feared buried beneath the rubble in the southern village of Hsiaolin.
About 40,000 troops began a new phase of the rescue operation shifting their focus from evacuations to searching remote areas for survivors and bodies, said Transport Minister Mao Chih-kuo, who is coordinating the emergency response.
A total of 1,638 people were waiting to be airlifted from 44 severely damaged villages, Mao told a news conference Sunday night.
It could take up to six months to rebuild roads and bridges in typhoon-hit areas, making it hard for people to live in some remote villages in the meantime, he added.
And those refusing to leave such areas may have to be removed by force, he said.
"One could hardly imagine the cost if those people continue to stay on the mountains and all of their daily needs have to be airlifted," he said.
The typhoon has turned into a political storm for Taiwan's president who acknowledged widespread public anger over the weekend by apologising to survivors for failing to recognise the scale of the crisis in time.
"I will take full responsibility whatever the blame is. After all, I'm the president of this country," Ma told CNN on Sunday.
As aid from around the world poured in, a five-member European Union delegation was expected to arrive on Monday to determine how the EU can best help the island, the foreign ministry said.
A United States military C-130 transport aircraft carrying relief supplies landed Sunday, marking the first US military activity in Taiwan since 1979, when Washington shifted its diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing.
The US was also sending two heavy-lift military helicopters to Taiwan to help in evacuation efforts, Mao said.
China has also offered large helicopters used during last year's earthquake in China, but Taipei has said it did not need the aircraft, the Taiwan News reported.
Typhoon Morakot slammed into Taiwan on August 8, dumping more than three metres (120 inches) of rain that unleashed floods and mudslides which tore through houses and buildings, ripped up roads and smashed bridges.
It was the worst-ever typhoon to strike Taiwan, the president said on Friday, saying the scale of the damage was more severe than a 1959 typhoon that killed 667 people and left around 1,000 missing.
Meanwhile, a 6.7-magnitude quake jolted the ocean floor off Taiwan's east coast at 8:06 am (0006 GMT) and was felt in the south where rescue operations were underway, but there were no immediate reports of damage, the Central Weather Bureau said.