The village washed away by mud

The village washed away by mud

Hsiaolin has been flattened by mud and rocks

A torrent of mud and rock obliterated all but two of Hsiaolin’s 300 houses

By Cindy Sui
BBC News, Hsiaolin, Taiwan

Driving into Hsiaolin, the village worst hit by Typhoon Morakot, it is difficult for people who have never seen it before to realise that it ever existed.

From 300 homes, nothing is left except two small houses on higher ground.

The area where the houses used to be now looks like a flat riverbed.

Even the electricity poles are gone. Two-thirds of the villagers are buried under this avalanche of mud. Most of them are believed to be elderly people and children.

The village, which had a registered population of 1,313, only had about 600 people resident when the mudslide struck on 9 August, the day after Taiwan’s Father’s Day.

Like people in other rural areas with few job opportunities, many of the young and even those married with children had gone to the towns or cities to work, leaving their children for the grandparents to look after, said Lu Yuan-ji, a volunteer search and rescue worker.

Power poles litter the road to Hsaiolin, Taiwan

Villagers return to grieve for their missing families

The survivors he met told him how the landslide occurred.

"When it rained, both mountains’ rock and mud slid down. At daybreak, all the mud fell from the mountain.

"The local people told everyone to run. The people who were slow were washed away by the mudslide," Lu Yuan-ji said.

Following an onslaught of rain from the typhoon, which weakened the soil, the mudslide happened after daybreak around 0600 that Sunday, when most villagers were either just waking up or still sleeping.

The approximately 200 people who managed to escape were either awake or heard the rocks falling before the sides of the two mountains cradling the village in a valley came crashing down.

The village chief knew something was wrong, Lu Yuan-ji said.

"He ran from household to household telling people to flee, and because of this he couldn’t save his own life."

Complaints have been made that the government should have done more to warn people about the typhoon and evacuate them.

It might be more sad for the families if the bodies are dug up
Lu Yuan-ji
Volunteer search and rescue worker

Lu Yuan-ji said a local water resources official had warned them the day before to leave, but they didn’t think the typhoon would be that bad.

Most of the villagers in Hsiaolin are fruit growers. The region is famous for growing mangoes, as well as papayas.

That does not bring in enough income for them to survive, so many go to the cities to work on construction sites, or in restaurants or shops.

The villagers belong to one of Taiwan’s indigenous tribes.

For centuries, they and their ancestors had lived in this valley.

Those who survived, and relatives of those who did not, have been demanding that the government allows them to return.

The number of indigenous people in Taiwan only amount to about 470,000 people.

They are among the worst off economically. They suffer from high unemployment and more health problems as well as lower life expectancy.

Dangerous recovery

Now that the road to the village has been reconnected by work crews earlier this week, many will return to see what has become of the village.

Some had insisted they needed to see their loved ones, dead or alive.

But it was unclear whether the government will try to dig up the bodies because the ground created by the mudslide is soft, making recovery work dangerous.

"It might be more sad for the families if the bodies are dug up. The government is discussing with them on what to do," said Lu Yuan-ji.

The task at hand seems so enormous; the authorities don’t know where to begin.

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