Rescuers leading a frantic search in Taiwan have found more than 1,000 people alive in the area around three remote villages devastated by Typhoon Morakot, which pummeled the island over the weekend, the military said Wednesday.
Relief operations spokesman Major General Hu Jui-chou said a few dozen more survivors were spotted Wednesday in Shiao Lin, the tiny community destroyed by a catastrophic mudslide early Sunday morning.
Hu told reporters 500 survivors had been found in Min Tzu, 200 from Chin He, and 270 from Shiao Lin.
"We are anxious to do our best to get the trapped people out," Hu Jui-chou told Reuters. "Hopes are getting slimmer as the days go by."
Army helicopters were ferrying survivors to safety in Cishan, the hardscrabble town in the southern county of Kaohsiung that is serving as a focal point for relief operations.
However, heavy rains were wreaking havoc with rescue operations and by early afternoon only a few dozen flights had arrived at the makeshift landing zone on the ground of Cishan Junior High School. That compared to more than 100 on Tuesday.
Morakot, which means "emerald" in the Thai language, struck the Philippines, Taiwan and China and left at least 93 people dead, most of them in Taiwan. It dumped as much as 80 inches of rain on the island before moving on to China, where authorities evacuated 1.5 million people and some 10,000 homes were destroyed.
A major concern for relief officials remained Shiao Lin, cut off from the outside world since Sunday's mudslides.
Video taken by TV station ETTV showed the village buried in tons of mud and rubbles, with only two of its structures left standing. The only sign of life in the village, the ETTV video showed, was a sodden cat hiding in a crack under the rubble.
Luo Shun-chi, 36, who escaped from Shiao Lin shortly after Sunday's mudslide, told The Associated Press that he did not know how many of his fellow villagers remained alive.
He said that between 500 and 600 people were in Shiao Lin at the time of the disaster — far fewer than the 1,300 people listed in Taiwan's population registry.
Taiwan's National Fire Agency has said 100 people were under the mud in Shiao Lin, but didn't offer any evidence to back up that claim.
Luo said that whatever the Shiao Lin death toll, he was never going back.
"The place is finished," he said. "There is no way I could return."
The official death toll from Morakot stands at 63 in Taiwan, while authorities say another 61 are missing. That figure is mostly people killed from flooding and does not include residents of Shiao Lin and its surroundings.
Outside of Taiwan, Morakot also claimed 22 lives in the Philippines. After pummeling Taiwan, Morakot slammed into China's Fujian province, bringing heavy rain and winds of 74 miles per hour, according to the China Meteorological Administration.
Authorities ordered 1.5 million people to leave the area, sending them to schools, government offices, hospitals and the homes of relatives, where they will remain until the rain stops and waters recede, the Civil Affairs Ministry has said.
Morakot damaged or destroyed more than 10,000 homes and flooded over 1 million acres of cropland, the ministry said. It said direct economic losses have been estimated at $1.4 billion.
The heavy rains triggered a massive landslide in Pengxi, a town in Wenzhou city of eastern China's Zhejiang province, destroying seven three-story apartment buildings at the foot of a mountain late Monday, an official surnamed Chen from the Pengxi government told The Associated Press.
Xinhua reported that an unknown number of residents were buried in the landslide, though Chen put the number at six. All were pulled out alive but two later died of their injuries, he said.
A separate storm, Typhoon Etau, moved away from Japan's eastern coast Wednesday after killing at least 18 people and leaving nine others missing, officials said.
Most were swept away by rain-swollen rivers or killed in landslides and floods, police said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.