"Pay close attention to that man behind the curtain!"

Friday, August 14, 2009

Impressions of Typhoon Morakot

Ma Ying-jeou's "Katrina"

Typhoon Morakot (莫拉克颱風) did extensive damage to large areas of Taiwan over the past weekend. Here in Taichung, it rained heavily from about Thursday night (August 6) until Tuesday afternoon (August 11).

Southern Taiwan experienced over 2,500 mm of rain from the storm resulting in widespread flooding and landslides which trapped thousands of residents of Chiayi, Tainan, Kaohsiung, Pingtung, and Taitung Counties. Several barrier lakes were also formed by landslides, creating the potential for even more devastation.

CNN's Guillermo Arduino gives details about Typhoon Morakot
CNN's Guillermo Arduino gives details about Typhoon Morakot
(screenshot from the video linked above)
(Click to enlarge)

As of Tuesday night, at least 62 people were confirmed dead As of 10 PM Thursday night (August 13), at least 116 people were confirmed dead (that number has probably risen since I found that report), and the death toll will inevitably rise for many days to come. UPDATE: "As of Saturday [August 29, 2009], confirmed fatalities from Morakot had reached 571, with 106 others listed as missing, the Central Emergency Operation Center said." [/update]

The response (or lack thereof) and who's to blame
In the 921 Earthquake of September 21, 1999 which happened under the watch of President Lee Teng-hui (李登輝), the first troops from the south (工兵) were dispatched within two hours to begin clearing roads, and within a day, 15,362 troops were dispatched during this crucial time period to assist with rescue efforts such as extracting survivors from collapsed buildings. Last Friday, people in Linbian Township (林邊鄉), Pingtung County (areas easily accessible to those with proper equipment -- boats, jet skis, etc.) who had called for help early in the morning were still waiting for that help to arrive 16 or 17 hours later.

Under former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁), emergency management had been improved to the point where, according to the Taiwan News, "emergency pumping equipment and other supplies or military manpower could be dispatched 10 minutes instead of hours after a [Central Operation Center] command." But after a little more than one year under President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), the power to make such decisions was rescinded by the central government. Yet Ma tried to shift the blame to local officials, especially DPP ones, for delaying the help.

Ma Ying-jeou hates Taiwanese people
But Ma went much further, even blaming the victims, just like the Bush administration and their supporters did following Hurricane Katrina:

1:56 YouTube video: "【莫拉克颱風】CNN專訪是否防颱不周 馬英九卸責:都是災民不走不撤離"
Translation: [Typhoon Morakot] CNN: Should Taiwan not have been more prepared?
Ma: It's all because the victims stayed where they were.

Defying common sense, Ma not only refused to declare a state of emergency -- he also refused assistance offered by Japan and the US (before doing an about-face while still trying to compile a "wish list" of what is needed).

In the meantime, rescue helicopters repeatedly passed over areas where people required help and continued focusing on the areas getting the most media coverage. The inevitable result was clashes between family members of the groups in these areas. Why didn't Ma use all the resources at his disposal and get the sick, the injured, the elderly, and those who need medication out of every area possible at the same time? Why was only one helicopter dispatched anywhere in Taiwan on the first day when so many bridges were out? (If the weather allowed one to go up, others could have gone up as well.) And why did it take until August 12 to get the big (tandem-rotor) helicopters (like the Chinook CH-47) out? The president is the one who must give these kinds of orders to the military. People will naturally come to the conclusion that most of this was the result of very ugly politics.

Chinese Nationalist Party-led (KMT) Taipei City was somehow allowed to round up 6,000 soldiers just to set up for the upcoming Deaflympics, but only 8,000 were assigned to national disaster relief in the days immediately following Morakot.

The media
While CNN was appropriately saying on Thursday, August 6 that Morakot may very well turn into a "super typhoon," Taiwan's Central Weather Bureau (CWB) was -- as late as Thursday -- "warn[ing] residents in the north and northeast [Maddog note: "especially the north and northeast," as opposed to the south, which took the brunt of the storm] that the storm was packing powerful winds and torrential rain."

On one hand, ETTV (very pro-blue) actually provided some help to people who called in. But at the same time, they were licking Ma's boots by repeatedly saying how well the government was performing and how fast they came to people's help. That's some heavy-duty spin at the very least.

On Tuesday, while TVBS was operating a phone bank to collect donations for the victims of the storm, Ma -- who (as then-president-elect) along with his wife staffed the phones sought donations for the victims of last year's Sichuan Earthquake in China -- was busy shifting the blame for the storm's devastating aftermath onto the CWB and DPP leaders. (While the CWB may have gotten it wrong, Ma -- you know, the president -- was twiddling his thumbs.)

A Yahoo poll conducted on August 10 and 11 asked 12,016 people their opinions about the Ma government's handling of this disaster. Only 4% (485 respondents) were "very satisfied." Another 10.4% (1,247 respondents) were "somewhat satisfied," bringing the "satisfied" total to 14.4% (1,732 respondents). 13.3% (1,597 respondents) were in the "not very satisfied" category while another 72.3% (8,687 respondents) said they were "very unsatisfied." That gives a total of 85.6% (10,284 respondents) who were "unsatisfied."

The aloofness
In Taimali, Taitung, Ma was met by a distraught man whose father had been washed away by floods there. What he told the man may shock you, but if you've been paying attention, it would be exactly what you should expect Ma to say.

Ma told the man, "I lost my father, too, so I know exactly how you feel." ("你的心情我完全了解 … 我父親也過世了 我非常了解這個感覺") (Listen closely from 0:53 - 1:01)

That should be all you need to know about Ma's ability to lead a country. "苦民所苦" ("I feel the people's pain"), my ass!

The resolution
This catastrophe is far from over. The Houfeng Bridge over the Dajia River -- a section of which collapsed in September 2008 during Typhoon Sinlaku, killing six people -- has still not been reopened to traffic, and at least 20 bridges are out after Morakot.

In addition, mountain roads, hotels, and many many homes (some along with their residents) have disappeared. Of the things that can be fixed, how long will it take, and at what cost?

Will this wake enough Taiwanese up? Or will they keep putting people like Ma in positions with far more power than people like himself can handle?

* Taiwan Floods on Twitter

* Taiwan Floods web site: 莫拉克災情網路中心

* In English for those who want to volunteer: DPP Typhoon Morakot Disaster Operations Center

* A blog set up by the DPP before Typhoon Morakot was even gone: 【莫拉克水災】南台灣救援行動網路支援中心

* DisasterTW.com (莫拉克颱風災情支援網)

* Dr. Billy Pan recruited help from other Taiwan Netizens to create a Google map detailing the disaster areas

* Claudia Jean kicks Ma Ying-jeou's ass for his and his administration's unconscionable behavior regarding this typhoon.

* Taipei Times, August 12, 2009: "EDITORIAL: A president far from his people"

* Taipei Times, August 13, 2009: MORAKOT: THE AFTERMATH: Rescue workers, mudslide survivors share shock, grief

* Taipei Times, August 13, 2009: MORAKOT: THE AFTERMATH: Ma media comments anger disaster zone survivors

* New York Times, August 13, 2009: Taiwan President Is Target of Anger After Typhoon

* Mon homme F. Varga says it's "Time To Ask Questions After Morakot," and he lists some key ones that the media and public should be asking.

* The blog of Taipei City Councilor Chien Yu-yen (簡余晏) (DPP) has documents from the Ministry of National Defense which reveal how slowly and inefficiently President Ma used the resources at his disposal.

* As early as August 5, scientists at NASA saw "a monster in Morakot"

* YouTube video: See how Morakot also covered villages in the Philippines with water and mud.

* According to Chinese state media CCTV on August 7, an orange alert -- the second highest level alert -- was issued in China for the storm

* Some death-defying (nearly whacked by a flying sign) raw footage shot in Hualien by TyphoonHunter (James Reynolds) as the storm made landfall

* A video I posted last year after Typhoon Kalmaegi: "Don't put your lives in the hands of the KMT"

* A playlist of the Monday August 10, 2009 edition of Talking Show (大話新聞)

(Άλισον and Claudia Jean contributed to this post.)

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Cross-posted at Taiwan Matters!

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