08/31/2009, 00.00
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Dalai Lama visits survivors in areas destroyed by typhoon Morakot

Mainland China insists the visit will have negative repercussions on relations between the two countries. But Tibet’s spiritual leader says all he wants to do is to bring comfort to the population. A priest in the affected area tells AsiaNews about the typhoon’s impact and the difficult work getting things back to normal.
Taipei (AsiaNews) – The Dalai Lama began his controversial visit to southern Taiwan, where Typhoon Morakot killed at least 571 people (an additional 106 are still missing), wiping out entire villages under mountains of mud and rock. In reaction mainland China reiterated its opposition to the visit by Tibet’s spiritual leader, which it considers a dangerous terrorist. A priest talks to AsiaNews from the typhoon-affected about the tragic situation.

The Dalai Lama visited the village of Hsiaolin, which lost 424 residents, but cancelled a planned press conference to prevent further protest by mainland China against Taiwan authorities.

He repeated that there was nothing political about his visit. “I'm a monk,” he said. “I was asked to say prayers for peace. [. . .]. There is no politics” in the visit. It “is humanitarian in nature.”

During his five-day stay he is expected to lead mass prayers and conduct a mass for local Buddhists..

Just before his arrival a spokesman for mainland China’s Taiwan Affairs Office said the “Dalai Lama's visit to Taiwan is bound to have a negative influence on relations between the mainland and Taiwan”.

The Tibetan leader was invited by prominent leaders from Taiwan’s opposition Democratic Progressive Party. The ruling Kuomintang was not very pleased but Taiwanese President Ma Yingjeou in the end approved the visit.

In southern Taiwan a priest with the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME), Fr Paolo Spanghero, spoke to AsiaNews about the great loss of life and huge material losses caused by the typhoon.

“In Chishan,” he said, “water and mud swept over the entire town reaching the main street, swamping all the stores with huge losses because owners had their inventory in basements. At least 15 people died. Many store owners lost their all their goods and their only source of income in a split second and now they don’t know how to go on.”

“Along the river bank the wave of mud swept through Guang-Sheng Hospital, covering the big arcade with its computer rooms where young people used to come to play. More than ten people are said to have died trapped inside the building, and many blame city hall for withholding information that could discredit the police and the authorities for not enforcing opening hours and for letting minors in.”

“Two bridges are down; one that leads to Chiwei and the other to the freeway. Now to go to Meinong people must drive through the tunnel, adding 12 kilometres to the trip. In some areas old tunnels built by the Japanese are being used. In some places people are fording rivers but the heavy rains up in the mountains have caused an upsurge in water that can sweep away concrete pillars.” 

“In a village above Jianxian at least 500 people lost their lives. Some survivors said that on 8 August, Father’s Days, they realised the danger they were in and went house to house warning people to flee. But many folks simply said: ‘Let’s just finish eating our holiday meal and then decide what to do’. Now the village no longer exists, covered by earth and rocks, three-storey high.”

“At present the danger is for survivors to be forgotten and fall victim to desperation,” said the priest. “Many survivors have nothing left—they will have to leave a village that no longer exists. Members of our Catholic community have travelled to the area to bring words of hope to everyone.”

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See also
Morakot typhoon: rescuers save 700 people, thousands still missing
Dalai Lama ends visit to Taiwan bringing together Buddhists and Catholics to pray
The Dalai Lama leads prayer of 20 thousand to commemorate the victims of typhoon
Ma Ying-jeou approves the Dalai Lama's visit to Taiwan for "religious" reasons
Beijing imposes harsh sentences on Tibetan monks and lama


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