Mourners survey damage

Nothing except the knots of grieving relatives mourning their dead, the red-clad rescue workers searching the ground for human remains and the tons of mud and rubble where once the village lay.

Shiao Lin was obliterated last weekend when rains spawned by Typhoon Morakot loosened the foundations of two nearby mountains and sent their facades tumbling down onto its 200 or so homes.

On Saturday morning, friends and relatives of the victims gathered at the site of the village, burning incense, carrying photos of their loved ones and weeping inconsolably under a gray and ominous sky.

Walking unsteadily near the remains of the Tai Tz Temple - one of only two buildings still standing - Liu Jin Fung shook his head repeatedly. He said the storm had changed his life beyond all recognition.

'My parents, my brothers, my uncles, altogether 40 of my family members were killed,' he said. 'How can I plan for the future? Everything is gone from my world.' Taiwanese President Ma Ying Jeou said on Friday that 380 of the southern village's about 600 residents died in the deluge.

He put the overall Morakot death toll at about 500, making it the island's deadliest weather disaster since 1959 when more than 600 perished, also in a typhoon. On Saturday, the president apologised amid mounting criticism that the government was too slow to provide rescue and relief services after the disaster.

Morakot dumped more than 2m of rain on Taiwan and stranded thousands in villages in the mountainous south. A total of 21,199 villagers have been ferried to safety and rescuers were working to save another 4,224 people.

The storm left 7,000 homeless and caused more than 50 billion New Taiwan dollars (S$2.16 billion) of agricultural and property damage, according to government estimates.

Shiao Lin is located in a narrow valley formed by the Nan Tz Hsien River, which burst its banks when torrential rains began falling before last weekend. Underfoot the soil is still sponge-like and mushy, and the sound from the dozens of rain-fed streams flowing over the ground - gently now, finally gently - is strangely soft.

Shiao Lin's two remaining structures stand broken and fractured amid a pair of tall palm trees - a dun coloured house that survived the disaster because it was located on relatively high ground, and the adjacent Tai Dz Taoist temple, its walls falling apart.

On either side of the valley, the mountains that buried the village were visible through a thin mist, the northern peak's once verdant face stripped clean away, and 260m of its original mass lying below on the ground. -- AP


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