Mainland tourists bear brunt of typhoon's fury in Taiwan

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 24 October, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 24 October, 2010, 12:00am

Mainland tourists travelling in northeastern Taiwan were the biggest group of people affected by landslides and flash floods when Severe Typhoon Megi sideswiped the island. By last night the death toll on Taiwan was 12.

Of 435 people stranded on a mountain highway seriously damaged by rockslides, 274 were from the mainland. Twenty of them, including a woman tour leader from Beijing, remained unaccounted for last night.

Megi, the strongest storm to hit the northwest Pacific in two decades, caused serious damage in Taiwan on Thursday. It then swirled towards the mainland, landing as a typhoon in Fujian province yesterday and becoming a severe tropical storm.

Following reports of landslides on many sections of Taiwan's Suao-Hualien Highway on Thursday afternoon, rescuers have been searching for the missing tourists along the rock-covered road, which links the scenic mountain sites of Taroko and Ilan in northeastern Taiwan.

Yesterday a team made up of rescuers and military personnel found a green bumper suspected to be part of a tour bus carrying 19 tourists from Guangdong as well as the bus driver and tour leader from Taiwan.

'The search team found a green bumper, but we have yet to be able to confirm whether it came from the missing coach,' Interior Minister Jiang Yi-huah said. 'There were no signs of any passengers around, too,' Jiang said.

Other mainland tourists, who were airlifted to safety, told local media they saw a green coach plunging off a cliff after it was hit by huge falling rocks.

Jiang said a woman tour leader and the driver from another coach were still missing.

That coach's tour leader, Tian Yuan from Beijing, and the bus driver, Tsai Chih-ming from Taiwan, were taking 19 Beijing tourists to Taipei via the highway after visiting scenic Hualien on the east coast.

The coach was hit and almost buried by rocks. The tourists managed to smash the windows of the bus and crawl out to safety. They were later airlifted to Ilan and returned to Taipei yesterday.

Media reports said mainland travel operators yesterday were asking why their Taiwanese counterparts had risked tourists' lives by driving along the highway in torrential rain and strong winds.

But travel agent Royce Wang noted that though the weather bureau had warned of torrential rain triggered by the typhoon, the authorities had not issued any order to seal the highway.

'Besides, as the typhoon was not forecast to slam right into Taiwan, many people thought it would be OK to use the highway to go back to northern Taiwan,' Wang said.

Most of the mainland tourists who escaped from the bus, however, were full of gratitude despite their narrow escape.

'I will never forget this Taiwan experience,' said Zhu Baode from Beijing. 'Were it not for the driver who told us to get off the bus, we might have been in danger.'

On the mainland, more than 270,000 people were evacuated yesterday. Fishing boats had been called to return to harbour before Megi crossed Fujian's coastline.

Megi landed on the mainland at Liuao town of Zhangpu county in southern Fujian province yesterday afternoon. The maximum wind speed was 140km/h at about 1pm. It gradually weakened into a severe tropical storm as it moved northwest and inland over Fujian.

At the mouth of the Yangtze River, sideswiped by Megi, two people were rescued and another 16 were missing after a fishing boat capsized yesterday morning.