CISHAN, Taiwan - Taiwan's military airlifted survivors from remote mountain villages devastated by mudslides triggered by last weekend's typhoon, and announced Thursday it was sending another 4,000 soldiers to help with the rescue effort.
The new troops will join the more than 10,000 soldiers already racing to save thousands of survivors stranded in several villages in the island's south, the Defence Ministry said in a statement. Rescue efforts have been slow because many bridges and roads to hard-hit villages collapsed or were washed out by raging floodwaters.
Typhoon Morakot struck Taiwan over the weekend, dumping more than 80 inches (2 metres) of rain and unleashing the most devastating floods that the island has seen in 50 years. The official death toll in Taiwan stands at 108, with 61 listed as missing. But several hundred more - nobody is sure how many - remain unaccounted for and are feared lost in the mudslides.
The storm also killed 22 people in the Philippines and eight in China.
The rains halted Thursday, permitting army helicopters in southern Taiwan to ferry scores of survivors from the remains of their villages to an improvised landing strip in the town of Cishan. Again and again the helicopters set down on the ground's of a school, as anxious relatives stood in the background waiting to hear the fate of their loved ones.
Not all of the news was good.
"There's been a bad development at Minchu village," a police officer announced over a speaker as a dead body was off-loaded from a Huey helicopter into a waiting ambulance.
But other choppers were ferrying the living - elderly men and women, small boys and girls, even infants - many looking dazed and bewildered.
The tension among relatives was palpable.
"I have my family members trapped out there," said a woman from Kaochung village who gave her surname as Yu. "They can't wait, if the rain resumes, the mountains around them will collapse."
The military has reported that it had traced some 1,000 villagers from the worst-hit village of Shiao Lin and two other stricken communities in the past two days. So far at least 300 of them have been airlifted to safety, said spokesman for relief operations Col. Chang Kuo-bin.
News reports said many villagers used their bare hands in the days after the mudslides to try to dig down to their buried homes in futile efforts to save their relatives.
Others sought to send messages for help.
On Wednesday, a wooden sign was seen being erected near a collapsed bridge in Hsinfa village in Kaohsiung, saying "32 Buried SOS." Rescuers rushed to the scene and tossed ropes over the river to pull several survivors to safety, according to news reports.
Morakot, which means "emerald" in the Thai language, first struck the Philippines. After the typhoon hit Taiwan, it pounded eastern China with winds reaching 74 miles (119 kilometres) per hour. Authorities evacuated 1.5 million people and some 10,000 homes were destroyed.