- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 1, 2001

KUANG FU, Taiwan Tears welled up in Yang Min-shan's eyes yesterday as he recalled how floodwaters gushed into his living room during Typhoon Toraji, sweeping away his wife and nine other relatives.
"I wanted to grab everyone, but I turned around and my wife and everyone else was gone," said Mr. Yang, a 56-year-old farmer in Kuang Fu, the mountain village that suffered the brunt of the storm.
Toraji named after a root commonly eaten by Koreans ripped into Taiwan shortly after midnight Monday, causing landslides and floods that killed at least 61 persons. About 150 were missing.
While Mr. Yang dug through mud and debris in search of his loved ones, other villagers gathered yesterday outside demolished homes to burn incense and traditional "ghost money" for the dead.
Survivors said boulders came tumbling down the mountains, ripping out trees, toppling telephone poles and crashing through homes. The rocks rolled into raging rivers that pushed them downstream into houses and cars.
Forecasters had predicted the typhoon would hit farther north, but it took a sudden turn and pounded eastern Hualien County where Kuang Fu is located. It also hit hard in central Nantou County, which was devastated by an earthquake two years ago, before weakening to a tropical storm.
The storm hit land early yesterday in China's southern Fujian Province, after crossing the Taiwan Strait. No damage or injuries were immediately reported.
Housewife Song Mei-fang, 28, recalled hearing the howling sound of the typhoon's gusts as she fled her home with one of her six children under her arm. As she ran away in knee-deep water, she heard a loud crash and turned around just in time to see mud and rocks bury her home.
"We're lucky we escaped because houses further up were flooded with water. I don't know how many died," said Mrs. Song, whose husband safely evacuated her five other children.
Rescuers, including about 3,000 soldiers, were using large earth-moving equipment, shovels and hoes to search for the missing. One group focused on digging up a temple in Kuang Fu that villagers said had 14 bodies.
Taiwan slightly smaller than Maryland and Delaware combined is one of the world's most densely populated places. Many of the 23 million people live near mountains that shed mud and rocks when typhoons dump huge amounts of rain on them.
Taiwanese leader Chen Shui-bian visited Kuang Fu and was quickly surrounded by mourning survivors. Two women kneeled down before him and begged for help, while another crying woman clung to him.
"I want to express my greatest sorrow to those killed and missing and their families," Mr. Chen told the crowd. "I hope that you'll be able to rebuild your homes."
Mr. Chen said the government would form a special team that would find the fastest way to assist the victims and help rebuild the area. Total property and agricultural damage was estimated at $20 million.
At a makeshift tent morgue near the village school, rescuers carried in the bodies of an elderly couple buried while sleeping. The victims' three daughters shoeless and covered in mud up to their knees cried uncontrollably and burned incense over their bodies.
"Mama, where are you?" one of them cried.

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