Joining supply mission for Typhoon Morakot victims

Trip Start Apr 01, 2008
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Taiwan  ,
Sunday, August 16, 2009

On Sunday noon, August 16, just having finished a meal with my wife's family, I got a call from a friend: " A group organized by the Presbyterian Church is looking for volunteers to join supply missions to Aboriginal communities stranded and cut off in the mountains. Do you want to join?"  The priest in charge of the missions is a very good friend since many years. He belongs to the Atayal tribe in the northern part of Taiwan. No question that I will join. So I say " Yes " and we agree to meet in Chiayi at about 9:00pm the same day. 

Typhon Morakot hit Taiwan from August 08 to 10. The eye reached the shoreline of Taiwan's East between Suao and Hualien, but the major problem has not been the storm, but the unexpected huge amount of rain in the tail of the storm. Morakot dumped incredible amounts of rain ( up to 2.900mm ) in the mountainous areas of Middle, South and East Taiwan, causing the worst flood disaster since 50 years, killing between 500 and 1.000 people - a tragedy. Still two weeks after Morakot, some mountain communities, which mainly belong to the indigenous peoples have barely been reached for help. Taiwan's mountains are steep, high and covered with earth and trees. Hundreds of landslides have destroyed roads and buried whole villages. Rivers washed houses into the Pacific Ocean and destroyed roads and bridges. 

In view of this situation and the lack of supply of villagers in the mountains different civic and religious groups have initiated supply missions in addition to government and military efforts.

So, when I got home I packed my backpack, not knowing what to expect, with sleeping bag. At 5:10pm I got a bus to Chiai, where I arrived at about 9:00pm. Here I met a friend who had already a mission on Friday. We take a taxi to a village, where we stay in the wooden houses attached to a hotel. A big 'hello' with some we know, especially the priest friend. He is the coordinator and as such busy planning. He says that the next day will be tough as we will have to walk up to a ridge and down on the other side. We eat some food provided, join a woman from New Zealand - she is a story by herself, but here only that she will not join the next days -in the hut and go to bed early.  

Next morning 6:00am wake-up call, 6:30 breakfast. At 7:00 we  ( about hundred people ) are all ready for departure after a short morning prayer. We take road No.18 into the mountains. On a temple parking lot a short stop to meet with other volunteers, such as indigenous friends from Smangus, Cinsebu and Singuang. We continue by car ( like a slalom parcours around landslides ) until the road is blocked for 2-wheel drives, only 4 wheel drives with the goods continue. We begin our walk until a we get a ride on the back of a small farm truck. We finally arrive at the point where the goods ( cereals, milk powder,baby formula, canned meat and fish, noodles, washing powder, soap, tooth paste ) are unloaded and from where they have to be carried. This is the end of No.18, for now. Everyone fills the backpacks, baskets and you name it with goods and begins the walk. ( The news is that we will not have to walk all the way up and over the ridge to get own again on the other side of a landslide. The villagers have trampled a kind of path across the middle of the fresh landslide. ) A kind of tunnel built over the road to prevent rocks from falling on the road is filled with mud, earth, sand and rocks. At some sections the mud is almost knee-deep and makes walking very difficult - we later walk outside the tunnel on the slope side. The second section of the tunnel has moved a bit down the slope. the road suddenly continues about 1.5m lower and the wall stands 1.5m more to the front. Then we see that the whole mountain side on  about 800 to 1.000m is gone - slipped into the valley below - no grass, no tree, no road No.18 left. The walk is not easy as the underground is muddy, mixed with rocks and very loose. One guy had to say good-bye to his right rubber boot as he stepped onto a very muddy spot. Several of us pulled him out - without the boot. The whole scene looked like an army of ants crossing a barren land. It's basically 2-way traffic on a one-lane road, so someone had to step aside, find firm ground and this with a heavy load ( mine was not as heavy as the ones of trained mountain indigenous peoples.) On the other side of the landslide small trucks are waiting to receive the goods and transport them further up the mountain till the next landslide. Two houses are to be seen, one covered by and filled with stones and earth. The villagers welcome us warmly. This walk is done a few times until no goods are left on the wrong side of the landslide. 

The next day no mission is due, but on Wednesday again.

On Wednesday wake-up call is at 5:30am, followed by same procedure as on first day. This time we approach our destination via Tainan, Tsenwen Dam and from there into the mountain. Villagers warn us that the road is difficult for 2-wheel drives, as will proof correct later-on. Several times the convoy has to stop, volunteers jump from their cars and push cars being stuck in the mud. Sometimes only the pulling by a 4-wheel drive could get the car going. The road was basically no longer existing, only a dirt, mud and rock road left. A temple on broken into two parts is lying close to the river on its side. Electricity poles are knocked over and power cables lying on the road - luckily without power. The village we shall supply with goods is on the other side of the river, which flows on the right side below the road. A steel cable/basket system has been installed to pull the goods over the river to the other side, where the villagers are waiting to receive the goods and bring them to their village. While I had left to pick up more goods from two stranded cars and helped two cars who got stuck, some indigenous volunteers swim across the river holding on to a rope - the river is still pretty strong and one you fall you will be carried away. They will help the villagers to bring the goods into the village. The village, built on a plateau, was lucky in so far as it has not been damaged, but a bridge had been washed away. At about 2:00pm all goods have been delivered and we return, having a lunch in a restaurant.

Back in the hotel the plans for the next days are changing by the minute. On Thursday they only need a few experts who can build such a cable transport system - I am not one of them, I also cannot carry 50 to 60kg generators up a mountain. Friday a new supply mission shall take place, but is later in doubt. We decide to return to Taipei - they can call us when they need people on Friday. The railway and high-sped rail offer free tickets for volunteers - we take the high speed train with out any problems - it's the first time for me. max speed 292 km/h.   
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