Photographs and Information about Taiwan's Culture, Nature and People by Rich Matheson

Typhoon Morakot

A journalist from the Guardian contacted me showing interest in a story about Morakot, so I interviewed my brother in law in the refugee center in Kaohsiung. I’m trying to get it published myself, but I’ll put it here anyway.

Here is Rajen Nair’s version:

Some of the facts are mixed up, but I’m happy the story is being told. Here is my version:

A Marakot Survivors Story

Following is an account of a survivor of Typhoon Morakot  from Namasia village.

I interviewed my wife’s fourth brother who is being temporarily housed in Fo Guang Shan Monastery in Kaohsiung County where they are being well cared for. Respected in the community, Biung is very understated man and generally a man of few words. I will try to interpret as faithfully as possible his story. I know him quite well, so was able to sit down and talk with him for a while.

The first landslide hit his village of Ming Chuan at about 4:00 in the afternoon on August 7th. The highest houses were badly damaged by rocks and mud, Biung’s house was destroyed. Bani, who lives below Biung, said there was water up to his waist in his house, but thankfully Biung’s iron gates stopped much of the rocks and mud.

Biung rounded up his wife and kids and ran down to the church at the lowest part of the village where many of the villagers were gathering. After regrouping and assessing the situation, they figured the church was unsafe. They planned to drive to the local elementary school just outside of town as it is traditionally very safe. They ended up driving all the way to the next village of Ming Tzu.

Namasia Township, recently renamed from San Ming, consists of three small villages, Ming Chuan, Ming Tzu and Ming Shen. The drive from The southernmost village, Ming Tzu, to Ming Chuan takes about five minutes following the Nantzuhsien River and another ten minutes, with two river crossings, to Ming Shen Villages One and Two.

They filled third brothers car with family, including heavily pregnant Ebu, his nephews wife. The road to the village was passable, with a rough spot at the temple right before the village.

Biung had by now realized this was not a typical typhoon and was getting worried.

Biung has lived in the mountains his whole life, only spending time outside of San Ming (now Namasia) for three years as a paratrooper, and is no stranger to typhoons or being stuck without electricity, water and outside contact for long stretches. People from Namasia are a tough and proud people so restoring communication and electricity to Namasia is usually not a priority. He is also deeply familiar with the local terrain and checks his trap lines or goes hunting most days, both as a supplement for his large family and pleasure.

They spent the night on the third floor of the Township Government Office building. Little sleep was to be had, however as they watched the river, now a roiling mass of mud, boulders and trees, slowly wearing the river bank closer to their refuge. The original river bed was a long distance from the building. Now, the large park, small library, post office, kindergarten and  large parking lot had been ripped away by the raging mud river. Na’u, Biung’s wife, said the loud, building shuddering, ‘Bong Bong’ noises as boulders crashed against the building had her cringing in fear all night.

After this less than restful night, the small group of harrowed refugees moved to the third floor of a friends house on the other side of Ming Tzu Village above the Church. This was the morning of August eighth and thankfully they weren’t aware the worst was yet to come.

At 10:50 that night Ming Tzu village slid from the highest reaches of the village, the elementary school, all the way to the lowest parts of the village. In 5 seconds. With no warning.

Two minutes later all the villagers who were spared were scrambling through the debris searching for family and friends. At least 27 died. They dug for two days and gave up having only dug out one corpse. Now the army is helping them dig out corpses.

Rain continued and slides continued. At one point, Biung saw an older woman running with her six month old grandchild down the street. She was swept away by the slide. There was nothing he could do. He knew her, as he knew all the dead.

Ming Tzu was obviously unsafe and those left were cut off on both sides by storm swollen rivers. They had to go up the mountain to the relative safety of the ‘ping tai’, a flat area. It was hard going, the strong carried the weak on their backs and they pushed on uphill through the rain.

Biung spent three days on the ping tai with his family. Everybody was cold, wet, hungry and very scared. He guesses there were 2-300 people mostly from the village of Ming Tzu.

On the fourth day of their ordeal the army flew food in.

Biung and his family were flown out by helicopter on the fourteenth of August.

This is a single account from one of the 2-3000 residents of Namsiya, which is only one of the many villages in Taiwan affected by Typhoon Marakot.

Now Taiwanese around the island are pouring out food and money for the the many refugees around the island. Biung is grateful for the help and that his family is safe. But worried about the future.


Today we are going to Kaohsiung because my niece (the pregnant woman in the car) is giving birth. Wish her luck!


3 responses

  1. Cory Toner

    Lief, I haven’t seen or spoken to you since chinese new years at your place in San Min about 5 years ago. I have talked to the girls at the pub a couple times and dropped in at the place in San Min but you weren’t there at the times I was. Anyhow, it is fantastic to hear you guys are okay, the devastation in San Min has been headline news and I was so worried about you guys. I am in Kaohsiung, if there is anything I can do just let me know, place to stay (and that applies to extended family as well), help with anything….just email or call (don’t want to put either on an open blog but flora should have both, you can get from her). I also want to get back in touch with you, there will be a lot of clean up needed in the future and my running group is ready to help in anyway we can.


    August 19, 2009 at 2:05 pm

  2. Pingback: Weekly Links – August 20, 2009 « The Daily Bubble Tea

  3. Pingback: Updates on Morakot « Liefintaiwan’s Weblog

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