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Taiwan begins rescue of 700 villagers found alive

Taiwan's military on Wednesday launched a helicopter rescue of more than 700 people who were found alive in three villages flattened by landslides, a senior military officer told AFP.

world Updated: Aug 12, 2009 11:33 IST

Taiwan's military on Wednesday launched a helicopter rescue of more than 700 people who were found alive in three villages flattened by landslides, a senior military officer told AFP.

"We have found around 700 people alive in three villages last night and 26 more this morning. We are deploying 25 helicopters to evacuate them," said Major-General Richard Hu.

Hu said he was unable to confirm how many people had been buried or killed by a huge landslide in Hsiaolin and two nearby villages.

Rescuers said Tuesday around 100 people in Hsiaolin were feared dead, while some media reports had speculated that up to 600 people had been killed in the landslide triggered by torrential rains brought by Typhoon Morakot.

As of late Tuesday, 219 people from Hsiaolin and several nearby villages had been airlifted to safety, Hu said.

"We believed that some were buried but it's not possible to estimate how many at this moment as almost 90 percent of the houses were buried," he said.

The typhoon slammed into Taiwan at the weekend, dumping a record three metres (118 inches) of rain, claiming at least 66 lives and leaving another 61 missing and 35 injured.

In the latest addition to the toll, police confirmed that three rescuers were killed when their helicopter crashed into a river in heavy fog in southern Pingtung county on Tuesday.

"Their bodies have been found and we are working to transport the bodies from the crash site," a policeman told reporters.

Armoured vehicles, marine landing craft and rubber dinghies were mobilised in the rescue operations, which involved more than 17,000 troops across the island, the defence ministry said.

Typhoon Morakot has caused at least 7.2 billion Taiwan dollars (225 million US) in agricultural damage while nearly 30,000 houses were still without power and 750,000 homes without water, according to officials.