Around 100 villagers are feared to have been buried alive in a mudslide in southern Taiwan, officials said on Tuesday as the death toll from Typhoon Morakot's record-breaking rain climbed to 38.
Taiwan's worst flooding in half a century had left another 62 people missing, not counting the disaster in the remote village of Hsiaolin, the government's National Fire Agency said.
"About 100 people may have been buried alive (in Hsiaolin)," the agency, which coordinates search and rescue operations, said after the first relief workers were helicoptered into the village.
Tales of individual heroism emerged, as rescue missions moved into full swing across Taiwan with authorities rushing out helicopters to remote areas cut off by fallen bridges or raging rivers.
Some 35 people were also listed as injured after the powerful typhoon lashed the island with a record three metres (118 inches) of rain over the weekend, submerging houses and whole streets.
Reports said up to 600 people were still trapped in Hsiaolin but authorities would not confirm the number, saying only that roughly half the village's 200 houses had been swamped by the mudslide.
All roads and bridges linking the village to the world outside were cut off by landslides and the only access was by helicopter.
"My house is gone. We have been trapped for four days and we are scared," a man from Hsiaolin, in the southern county of Kaohsiung, told reporters after being airlifted to safety.
He was one of about 70 villagers choppered out, and another 150 locals had found refuge in the village, the fire agency said.
Su Shen-tsun, one of the rescuers flown into Hsiaolin Monday, said the sight was astonishing.
"I could hardly believe my eyes," Su said. "The whole village disappeared and even roofs of the houses could not be seen."
Armoured vehicles, marine landing craft and rubber dinghies were mobilised in a rescue operation involving nearly 6,000 troops, Taiwan's defence ministry said.
In Pingtung county in southern Taiwan, thousands of people remained trapped in three coastal townships without electricity or drinking water.
The Apple Daily said one man in a flooded Pingtung town had single-handedly rescued about 100 people with a bamboo raft over the past two days.
In the central county of Chiayi, more than 1,200 pigs drowned in a farm and their bodies were rotting in the oozy mud, triggering concerns for public health, reports said.
Typhoon Morakot has caused at least five billion Taiwan dollars (156 million US) in agricultural damage while a total of 61,000 houses were left without power and 850,000 homes without water, according to officials.
Charities and companies have launched donation drives for flood victims, raising more than 800 million Taiwan dollars as of Monday, reports said. Official figures were not immediately available.
A typhoon that struck Taiwan in August 1959 killed 667 people and left some 1,000 missing.