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Red Cross Races to Help Typhoon Survivors in East Asia
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Francis Markus, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in Wenzhou, China and Patrick Fuller, in Kuala Lumpur
 
August 14, 2009

More than 100 people have died and over 200 remain stranded as rescue workers in Taiwan struggle to reach communities cut off by floods and mudslides.

Story highlights:
  • Red Cross search and rescue teams trying to reach cut off villages in Taiwan
  • Aid being distributed by plane and in evacuation centers in six worst affected areas in Taiwan
  • 10,000 homes damaged by typhoon Morakot in eastern China
A man sits on a raft in flood water caused by Typhoon Morakot in Pingtung county, southern Taiwan.
A man sits on a raft in flood water caused by Typhoon Morakot in Pingtung county, southern Taiwan.

Reuters/Pichi Chuang, courtesy of www.alertnet.org

Residents clear debris after flooding from Typhoon Morakot in Shuitou town, Pingyang county, China. This community was under ten feet of water during the first part of this week.
Residents clear debris after flooding from Typhoon Morakot in Shuitou town, Pingyang county, China. This community was under ten feet of water during the first part of this week.

Francis Markus/International Federation

The railings on the main highway through Cangnan county are being used as drying rails for clothes that got soaked in the typhoon. Everything from Chinese medicinal herbs to furniture and pigskin leather is being dried.
The railings on the main highway through Cangnan county are being used as drying rails for clothes that got soaked in the typhoon. Everything from Chinese medicinal herbs to furniture and pigskin leather is being dried.

Francis Markus/International Federation

Heavy rains arriving in the wake of Typhoon Morakot have caused the worst flooding in decades in parts of Taiwan’s central and southern districts, and this is hampering the rescue effort. Military helicopters have evacuated almost 14,000 people from the worst-affected areas, while food and relief items have been airdropped to other communities.

Three Red Cross search and rescue teams with more than 100 volunteers have been working with the fire department to reach villages that have been cut off. The Red Cross volunteers have been helping with airdrops and distributing relief supplies to evacuation centers set up by the local authorities.

Scale of disaster

As the scale of the disaster continues to unfold in Taiwan, the general situation in coastal provinces of mainland China is improving.

In the eastern Chinese province of Zhejiang, everybody is racing to get their lives back on track as best they can. The flooding that followed Morakot destroyed or damaged an estimated 10,000 homes causing damage estimated at 7 billion Yuan (more than $1 billion USD).

From brightly colored clothes hanging on the railings on the edge of the highway, to Chinese medicinal herbs, strips of pigskin leather and furniture, everything is spread out in the sunshine to dry.

As the clean up continues, the disaster is prompting reflection about the underlying environmental factors and what can be done to balance the circle between the region’s rapid development and the hazards it faces.

Bad flooding

“We get plenty of typhoons here and if they didn’t come, we’d wonder what was wrong, but we haven’t seen one that’s caused such bad flooding in at least 15 years,” says Cai Zhangqing, who heads the Red Cross branch in Wenzhou. He and his volunteers and staff had to reach many of the flood stricken areas by boat to deliver relief supplies of rice, instant noodles, quilts and disinfectant.

About 50 miles south of Wenzhou, towards the neighboring province of Fujian, which was where Morakot made landfall, the town of Shui Tou has a name, meaning ‘Water Head’, that seems all too appropriate, since it was under three meters of water for the earlier portion of this week.

Pointing at an orange fluorescent life jacket hanging on the banister, a man of around 40 years old who lives around the corner says, “I used that to go chasing after my pigs which had escaped in the flood,” yet he only managed to recapture about half of his 60 pigs.

Well prepared

People in this region are relatively well prepared for the normal intensity of the typhoons, which strike them throughout the summer and autumn months.

“When typhoons come, I normally expect flooding to come up to there,“ says shopkeeper Deng Mingyue, pointing at a spot that looks alarmingly high on the wall, “so I store the goods on higher shelves, but this time it was at least half a meter higher than we’ve experienced before.”

The mass evacuation of some 1.5 million people across several provinces helped to keep fatalities very low.

“The government deserves credit for this approach, which is really people-centered, but at the same time there is still a fundamental issue to be tackled - understanding and addressing the impact that growing urbanization and industrialization may be having on disasters,” says Gao Xiang, executive vice president of the Zhejiang provincial Red Cross.

Nowhere to go

Whereas once the rains that coursed down from the mountains had an extensive river system to disperse into naturally, increasing development has brought the spread of concrete, tarmac and brick, which has left the water with nowhere to go.

Certain kinds of agricultural business may also be having a negative impact. “In parts of the province, there are lots of trees being planted in the hills to be sold to the cities for landscaping and when they are uprooted, the soil goes with them,” explains Gao.

“Of course more trees are planted in their place, but each time, the quality of the soil is denuded which can contribute to causing mudslides.”

Local Red Cross staff and volunteers in China, Taiwan and the Philippines are helping families affected by typhoon Morakot. With tremendous disaster response experience and capacity in the Red Cross at the national and local level in the affected countries, there has not been an appeal to the international Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement for outside assistance. The American Red Cross remains in daily communication with its Red Cross partners in Asia and stands ready to assist if needed. Since there has not been an international appeal, at this time the American Red Cross can not accept funds designated to the typhoon.

You can help the victims of countless crises around the world each year by making a financial gift to the American Red Cross International Response Fund, which will provide immediate relief and long-term support through supplies, technical assistance and other support to help those in need. Donations to the International Response Fund can be made by phone at 1-800-REDCROSS or 1-800-257-7575 (Spanish) or online at www.redcross.org.

About the American Red Cross:
The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and provides emotional support to victims of disasters; supplies nearly half of the nation's blood; teaches lifesaving skills; provides international humanitarian aid; and supports military members and their families. The Red Cross is a charitable organization — not a government agency — and depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to perform its mission. For more information, please visit www.redcross.org or join our blog at http://blog.redcross.org.



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