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Taiwan says more than 460 missing after typhoon

world Updated: Aug 21, 2009 11:15 IST

More than 460 people were missing nearly two weeks after Typhoon Morakot hit Taiwan, unleashing floods and mudslides that left more than 150 confirmed dead, emergency officials said on Friday.

The figures appeared to confirm President Ma Ying-jeou's warnings that the disaster's death toll was likely to exceed 500, with hundreds feared buried.

The official death toll rose to 153 with an additional 464 missing, the National Fire Agency said in a statement.

Taiwan meanwhile pushed ahead with the massive reconstruction effort as widespread outrage over the government's slow disaster response threatened to turn into a full-blown witch hunt.

Engineers assembled the first of 1,000 prefabricated homes donated by China to resettle thousands left homeless by floods and mudslides in hard-hit Pingtung county in the south of the island.

US military helicopters also continued to lift construction equipment into remote areas. Workers could be seen clearing village drainage systems by hand and with excavators in images aired by SET TV news channel.

Ma's approval rating has sunk to 16 per cent and three senior cabinet officials have tendered their resignations with the defence minister, cabinet secretary, and deputy foreign minister offering to step down.

All three remain in their jobs but Premier Liu Chao-shiuan has suggested a cabinet reshuffle next month was inevitable and that even his place in the government would be reviewed.

Media scrutiny of officials at all levels has intensified as local emergency officials defended themselves on television news against charges that they played mahjong or sang karaoke as the typhoon was hitting the island.

Even Ma was attacked on Friday for swimming lengths in the early morning during the typhoon's first couple of days. His spokesman denied the president maintained his usual exercise routine.

The prime minister had previously been criticised for getting a haircut and the cabinet secretary for dining with his family at a five-star hotel.

The cabinet Thursday approved a special budget of 100 billion Taiwan dollars (3.12 billion US) to pay for typhoon relief and reconstruction over the next three years and said it would submit it to parliament by the end of the week.

The government forecast Taiwan's economy would contract an extra 0.24 per centage points to 4.04 per cent for 2009 due to the impact of Morakot.

However, Shih Su-mei, the minister in charge of the budgeting body, told reporters on Thursday the additional spending on typhoon reconstruction projects could boost economic growth and offset the losses.

Typhoon Morakot dumped more than three metres (120 inches) of rain on the island, triggering floods and mudslides which tore through houses and buildings, ripped up roads and smashed bridges.

It was the worst-ever typhoon to strike Taiwan, Ma has said, saying the scale of the damage was more severe than a 1959 typhoon that killed 667 people and left around 1,000 missing.

The deadliest natural disaster in the island's history was a 7.6-magnitude quake that claimed around 2,400 lives in September 1999.