Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves has sent a letter of solidarity to the government and people of Taiwan. (File photo)
Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves has sent a letter of solidarity to the government and people of Taiwan. (File photo)

KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent: – This country’s prime minister, Dr. Ralph Gonsalves has written to Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou on the heels of Typhoon Morakot, which buried over 600 villages, left 121 dead and 380 missing after three days of incessant rain last weekend.

Dr. Gonsalves told I Witness-News late Friday that he had lunch with Taipei’s ambassador to Kingstown Leo Lee that day.

He said he was considering sending another message of solidarity to the long-standing Asian ally.

“…It appears that the typhoon would cause more loss of life and destruction than even the initial terrible destruction. This is the biggest one for at least 50 years — 117 persons dead — and President Ma has said the number may go up to 500, because of the landslides.

“We in St. Vincent and the Grenadines extend our sympathy and solidarity to the government and people of Taiwan and we are keeping in close touch with Ambassador Leo Lee on the matter. I personally am doing that, in addition to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs,” he said.

Vincentians citizens — including students — living in Taiwan were all safe after the passage of the hurricane-like weather system.

The majority of the students, some of whom left Taiwan in July for the summer vacation, live primarily in northern and central Taiwan, which received only “normal wind and rain” during the storm.

The storm also swelled rivers and triggered landslides that buried entire villages in Taiwan while similar weather systems claimed two dozen lives in eastern China, Japan and the Philippines.

“There was no typhoon in Taipei,” Vashti Carr, who lives in Taiwan’s capital in the north of the island, told The Vincentian newspaper on Wednesday.

Similar sentiments came from Dr. Eva Salazar, a Filipina professor living in a city one hour south of Taipei.

“From the north, we are only made aware of the hardships of the affected southerners through the television and newspapers. The typhoon, in fact, relieved the water problems of Taoyuan. A few days before the typhoon, we were warned that water in the area would be limited,” Dr. Salazar told I Witness-News on Friday.

“In the north, people do not seem to be affected by the typhoon at all, except for … what can be seen in the media,” Dr. Salazar said.

“Most damage happened really in the south, places like Tainan, Kaohsiung and Pingtung. Luckily, I am in Taipei; just normal wind and rain,” Vincentian student Calvert Edwards said.

Edwards was referring to the cities, towns and villages that were most severly affected on the island that is 100 times the size of St. Vincent and the Grenadines and has a population of 23 million.

‘Heartbreaking’

Carr on Friday told I Witness-News that watching television reports of the devastation was “heartbreaking”.

An aerial view of flooding caused by Typhoon Morakot in Chiatung, Taiwan. (AFP/AFP/Getty Images)
An aerial view of flooding caused by Typhoon Morakot in Chiatung, Taiwan. (AFP/AFP/Getty Images)

“I’ve been keeping up with the news on TV but I have to turn it off after a while. Right now, watching for more than 10 minutes is really distressing,” Carr told I Witness-News.

“There are people bawling their eyes out about family members they have seen washed away, about people who’ve been missing for so long now, about losing everything except the clothes on their backs. Losing their family, their homes, their means of income. It’s really terrible. And the photos; entire villages totally gone,” she added.

President Ma on Friday requested that the Cabinet, with the help of geography and meteorology specialists, draft relocation plans and complementary measures for villages ravaged by floods or mudslides, Taiwan’s central News Agency (CAN) reported.

In addition to the projected death toll, Ma said the typhoon has caused US$1.52 billion in property losses and left 7,000 people homeless.

Government criticised

The New York Times said on Friday that Ma, who came to office 15 months ago, was being criticised for the handling of the storm’s aftermath, a report supported by Taiwanese Ray Yen.

“Many people are criticizing our government for its attitude to the rescue effort and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has been criticized for the rejection of assistance from other countries,” Yen told I Witness-News.

A man carries a baby as a family is rescued from flooding brought by Typhoon Morakot in Chiatung, Pingtung county, in southern Taiwan, on August 9, 2009. (PATRICK LIN/AFP/Getty Images)
A man carries a baby as a family is rescued from flooding brought by Typhoon Morakot in Chiatung, Pingtung county, in southern Taiwan, on August 9, 2009. (PATRICK LIN/AFP/Getty Images)

On Thursday, the cabinet reversed an earlier decision and said that it would accept foreign aid, including the heavy-lift helicopters needed to carry bulldozers deep into the mountains.

Yen said that dissatisfaction with the Ma administration’s handling of the situation was on the rise for “lots of reasons”, adding, “of course there are lots of political reasons”.

He said that the Taiwanese media were divided on their opinions of the government’s response.

“The reaction of ruling party is really too slow,” he said, adding that original flood damage estimates were US1.5 million.

“It was impossible and did not make sense,” Yen added, noting that the estimate had risen to US$1.52

He said government information was being updated too slowly

The typhoon dumped more than 3m of rain, setting off flooding and mudslides that tore through houses and buildings, wiped away roads and destroyed bridges, the Taipei Times reported on Friday.

The newspaper said that the scale of the crisis has overwhelmed authorities even as 50,000 troops were struggling to cross raging rivers and fallen bridges to reach victims on Friday, while helicopters airlifted supplies to stranded villagers and ferried people to safety.

But Ma said that his administration “will overcome all obstacles in accomplishing this mission”, according to the newspaper.