TAIPEI, Taiwan – A U.S. relief team backed by heavy-lift helicopters arrived in Taiwan on Monday to help local authorities get aid to the hundreds of people thought to be stranded in mountain villages more than a week after a typhoon rocked the island.
Army spokesman Lt. Col. Tai Chan-te said the military was still using helicopters to search for and rescue people trapped in the rural south, where flooding and mudslides triggered by Typhoon Morakot cut off villages and killed hundreds.
He said more than 200 people were rescued Monday but could not give an estimate of how many still needed aid. Officials said late Sunday that at least 1,000 people were still stranded.
A U.S. team arrived on a CH-35E helicopter that took off from the USS Denver in waters off southern Taiwan to help out with the effort, according to Christopher Kavanagh of the American Institute in Taiwan.
The American Institute in Taiwan is the de facto U.S. Embassy on the island.
The Denver itself is expected to arrive later in the day, a U.S. defense official said. It is carrying four helicopters — all termed heavy lift choppers capable of carrying equipment to remote mountainous areas that were cut off in the storm.
The U.S. has already given $250,000 to Taiwan for relief efforts and delivered relief goods both Sunday and Monday. Taiwan has also accepted foreign aid from other countries including Israel, Australia and Singapore.
Typhoon Morakot dumped more than 80 inches (2 meters) of rain on the island more than a week ago. That spawned flooding and massive landslides that stranded thousands in mountainous southern Taiwan. Among the estimated 500 dead, some 380 were buried under rubble in the remote village of Shiao Lin village in eastern Kaohsiung county.
On Monday, Taiwan's military continued its search for victims who perished in the storm. TV images showed soldiers crawling on the ground, smelling for dead bodies buried under mud.
Tai said the army is focusing its operations on air dropping supplies and opening severed roads.
Over the weekend President Ma Ying-jeou apologized for his government's slow response to the disaster, following widespread criticism of its actions — including from members of his own party.
"Sorry we were late," he told people in southern county of Pingtung on Sunday. "As the president, I will take full responsibility in getting the remaining work done well."
Ma has described Morakot is the worst weather disaster to hit Taiwan in more than 50 years. On Friday he put its agricultural and property damage at more than 50 billion New Taiwan dollars ($1.5 billion).
Chinese pop stars hosted a four-hour TV special in Hong Kong late Monday to raise money for the victims, singing a Chinese-language version of the Simon and Garfunkel classic, "Bridge over Troubled Water."
It was too early to tell how much the fundraiser would bring in because donation hot lines had just gone live. A similar charity performance in Taipei on Friday raised NT$505 million ($15.3 million).
In addition to the damage it wrought Taiwan, Morakot also caused 22 fatalities in the Philippines and 8 in China.
That figure does not include the 22 seaman China's official Xinhua News Agency says disappeared when their ship sank off of Taiwanese waters on Aug. 8. The seaman were employed by a shipping company in eastern China, Xinhua says. It says a search for them is under way.