More modern equipment such as helicopters will be deployed after Mother Nature wreaks havoc Authorities plan to update the mainland's emergency relief operations by deploying more modern equipment such as helicopters from this year as the death toll from natural disasters hit an eight-year high last year. Officials said 3,186 people were killed in natural disasters last year, the highest number since the massive floods of 1998. About 13.8 million people were displaced, 1.93 million houses devastated and direct economic losses amounted to 252.8 billion yuan, according to Deputy Minister of Civil Affairs Li Liguo . Mr Li yesterday said the record high fatalities were due to two devastating typhoons that accounted for 41 per cent of the total death toll last year. In July, Typhoon Bilis swept through six provinces and killed 843 people, followed a month later by Typhoon Saomai, which slammed into two provinces and killed 483 people. Mr Li said many of the houses were in areas prone to mud and landslides and were built of mud bricks, making them susceptible to destruction. Wang Zhenyao , director of the ministry's disaster relief department, said the body would deploy more modern equipment such as helicopters and cargo aircraft from this year. He said the ministry was also in talks with government departments in charge of communications about setting up a joint mechanism to repair communication networks destroyed by natural disasters. Mr Wang said the need was pressing after observing the chaos caused by the massive internet disruption triggered by the recent earthquake off Taiwan. 'It is very important that we can resume emergency communications within the shortest time, such as a day or two, or even several hours, after an area is hit by catastrophe,' he said. Mr Wang said the government would also work to release more timely information about natural disasters and relief efforts in the future. Mr Li said the government had spent 11.2 billion yuan on disaster relief last year and a further 1.67 billion yuan had been allocated to help disaster victims make it through the winter. The government has rebuilt 1.72 million houses destroyed by natural disasters, but 167,000 houses have not been rebuilt yet, leaving many people homeless. Mr Li said that the government would also consider raising the amount of relief funds for victims. The central government pays 600 yuan for every house destroyed, 150 yuan per person to compensate them for relocation and half a kg of grain, or 70 cents, for each victim to help them through the winter. Asked if this was enough to sustain victims, Mr Li said local administrations would also help the victims in addition to the central government relief efforts. Victims could also seek help from their relatives and neighbours.