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Tuesday, September 28, 1999 Published at 19:41 GMT 20:41 UK

World: Asia-Pacific

Taiwan quake rescue criticised

Troops aim to clear debris within a month

Officials in Taiwan have admitted that avoidable mistakes were made during the operation to rescue people trapped by last week's devastating earthquake.

Quake in Taiwan
A spokesman for President Lee Teng-hui said rescue efforts "were a little disorganised".

The admission came as Taiwan's legislature overwhelmingly passed a six-month emergency decree to help cope with the disaster.

The official death toll now stands at 2,105, with 8,713 people injured, 141 missing or trapped and 100 stranded in remote areas.

Eight northern counties and cities, including the capital Taipei, are subject to six half-hour power cuts a day, causing multi-million dollar losses to the country's vital manufacturing industry.

[ image: Water and electricity are being rationed]
Water and electricity are being rationed
President Lee's spokesman, Ting Yuan-chao, said: "We really must try harder the next time and learn from this."

"You must remember that in the history of [Taiwan], there has never been an earthquake of this size."

However he said the media had exaggerated the extent of the rescue mission's failings.


Taiwanese and international rescuers are still searching for survivors, but hopes of finding anyone alive are now remote.

[ image:  ]
One of the biggest problems they said they had faced had been the lack of a central command centre to co-ordinate rescue efforts.

Other setbacks included a lack of proper equipment, translators, and engineers to determine whether toppled buildings were safe to enter.

South Korean rescuers expressed astonishment at what they said had been a basic lack of high-tech equipment, such as search cameras and long retractable rods fitted with lights, video-cameras and microphones for probing rubble.

These allow rescuers to search for survivors without wasting precious time digging or cutting through debris.

"We lost the first critical day when we could have saved the most people," Lin Pei of the Taichung Fire Department said.

Emergency decree

The president's emergency decree allows the government to force evacuations, appropriate private buildings and vehicles, re-prioritise budgets and disregard all planning laws during reconstruction.

A defence spokesman said troops would try to repair all damaged roads, demolish dangerous buildings and clear debris in a month.

They aim to finish constructing temporary accommodation for the thousands left homeless by next February, before winter sets in and conditions deteriorate.

The earthquake destroyed around 13,000 high-rise apartment blocks in central Taiwan and left more than 100,000 people homeless.

Many have sought refuge in temporary camps, where the health ministry is now warning that there is the possibility of epidemics of cholera, typhoid and other infectious diseases.

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