The Tenth Anniversary of Typhoon Morakot

Ten years ago, in August 2009, people in Taiwan were feeling anxious about a water shortage, so when Typhoon Morakot was predicted to sweep onto the island, everyone began to hope that the storm would bring timely rain and help alleviate the drought. Little did they know that the typhoon would become the deadliest storm to hit Taiwan in recorded history.

Morakot left 681 people dead and 18 people missing. It destroyed homes and caused significant losses of property. Ten years have passed since this shattering calamity. Despite feeling deep sorrow, victims have bravely carried on and tried to create new lives for themselves.


Ferrying Love

Linbian Township, Pingtung County, southern Taiwan, was one of the areas hit hard by Typhoon Morakot. With the help of military vehicles, Tzu Chi volunteers deliver hot meals and emergency supplies to victims stranded by flooding in their homes (below left). Carrying supplies on his head, a local resident wades through waist-deep water to return home (below right).


Emotional and Material Care

Tzu Chi volunteers visited affected households in the aftermath of the typhoon to offer care and support and learn what they could do to help. Tzu Chi also provided free medical services in disaster areas, such as in Wandan, Pingtung (above). A volunteer wipes away the tears of a victim in Wandan who still feels shaken by the storm (below left). Volunteers trudge with great effort through thick mud as they assess damage in Danei, Tainan (below right).



On November 15, 2009, construction for the Shanlin Great Love Village kicked off. Tzu Chi built this community especially for people who had lost their homes to Typhoon Morakot. Built in two phases, the completed village would become home to over a thousand families. Survivors themselves were invited to participate in the construction on a work relief program, and the project had already made good progress by January 2010 (below left). People pose in front of a newly completed church in the village on the day the first worship was held there, February 20, 2010 (below right).


Doing Our Best to Carry On

By Fu Yu-nu

Translated by Wu Hsiao-ting

The longan tree under which the villagers took shelter after the disaster still stands tall, but Xiaolin Village is long gone, buried more than ten meters underground. Ye Xiu-xia no longer cries over that tragedy that happened ten years ago, but she still deeply misses her lost family members. Nevertheless, she tells herself: “We’ve received help from people around the world. We can never pay them back. The best way for us to thank them is to press on and keep living bravely.”

Former residents of Xiaolin Village participate in an annual nocturnal sacrifice of the Taivoan people. Through this event, they gather together and find in each other the courage to press on in life’s journey. Lu Xiu-fang

A decade had passed, but the riverbed at the foot of Mount Xiandu was still blanketed with the rocks and debris that had rolled off the mountain ten years ago, when Typhoon Morakot hit. Grass here and there had grown taller than a man, adding to the desolate feel of the area. The mountainside ahead looked stripped and bare—the way it had looked after the landslide. Xiaolin Village, a tribal community that used to be here, was long gone. It existed only in people’s memory now.

Ye Xiu-xia (葉秀霞) and Fu Yu-nu (傅玉女) stood shoulder by shoulder on an embankment, looking out together at Mount Xiandu, both contemplating the disaster that had changed everything here. Ye used to be a resident of Xiaolin Village, and Fu is a Tzu Chi volunteer.

On July 18, 2008, torrential rains caused by Typhoon Kalmaegi triggered landslides in some areas in southern Taiwan. All roads leading to Xiaolin Village, in Jiaxian, Kaohsiung, were cut off. Some Tzu Chi volunteers carried supplies and traveled on foot over No. 9 Bridge to reach the village. By the time they arrived, Ye and the other villagers had already gone a few days without running water, electricity, and food. Everyone was excited and touched when they saw a group of strangers clad in blue shirts and white trousers arriving at the village, bringing drinking water and daily necessities.

Ye volunteered to be a guide for the volunteers. “I’ll take you to the villagers who have been more badly affected by the typhoon. I hope Tzu Chi can help us clean up our community and allow our lives to return to normal as soon as possible.” Fu Yu-nu was among the volunteers who had visited Xiaolin Village. She was very impressed with the warm-hearted and spirited Ye. A strong solidarity had always existed among the residents, and with the help of Tzu Chi, the village got back on its feet very quickly.

Little did anyone expect that a year later Xiaolin Village would be all but wiped out by another storm.

On August 8, 2009, Typhoon Morakot brought heavy rains to Taiwan. By three a.m. on August 9, floodwaters had reached the Tai Zi Temple in Xiaolin Village, even though the temple was located on higher ground. At 6:10 that same morning, a massive landslide occurred on the 1,600-meter-tall (5,250-foot-tall) Mount Xiandu, located behind Xiaolin Village. The landslide hit the village with astonishing speed, swallowing up a good part of the community and killing more than 400 people. Only about 50 villagers managed to escape.

The villagers who had escaped the landslide were soon faced with another great danger. A large landslide-dammed lake that had formed after the disaster collapsed. Ye, with her children in tow, ran desperately with other villagers for their lives. They had several close calls, as huge rocks rolled and landed behind them. With a great deal of effort, they finally reached a hilltop. All of them, more than 40 in total, had been drenched to the bone. Almost no one was wearing shoes. They huddled together, cold and hungry, under a large longan tree next to a shed. Children began suffering from dehydration and hypothermia, their lips turning purple. The only thing the adults could do was hold them close to keep them warm.

For the next two days, the villagers saw helicopters circling in the sky. They built fires to attract attention to their plight and were finally rescued. The rescuers let women, children, and the elderly and infirm get on the helicopters first. It wasn’t until five in the evening of August 10 that everyone was out safely. They were placed in a temporary shelter at the Shun Xian Temple in Neimen, Kaohsiung.

Worried about the villagers, volunteer Fu visited the temple to check on them. She happened to pass by someone that looked very familiar on the second floor. Retracing her steps, she called out, “Aren’t you Ye Xiu-xia from Xiaolin Village?” Meeting after such a major calamity, the two hugged and broke into tears.

A survivors’ list had been posted on a bulletin board at the temple. Ye, her husband, and children had safely escaped. Sadly, her grandmother, parents-in-law, and brother-in-law’s three-member family had not been so lucky. They had all perished. Fu took a set of Buddhist prayers beads off her wrist and gave it to Ye, hoping to give her courage.

Fu had obtained that bracelet of prayer beads when she had received her volunteer certification from Master Cheng Yen, who had personally put it on her wrist. The bracelet meant a lot to Fu and parting with it was hard, but she resolutely passed it on to Ye. Holding the beads in her palm, Ye felt the warmth from Fu, and her eyes misted up with tears.

Ye Xiu-xia and her family have relocated to this new community in Jiaxian, Kaohsiung. The community was built by the Red Cross. Zhang Qing-wen

Regaining normalcy

Organizations including the Tzu Chi Foundation built permanent housing communities for people who had lost their homes to Typhoon Morakot. Ye and her husband chose to move into one that was closer to the old Xiaolin Village.

The landslide had buried a shrine in Xiaolin Village where religious events of the Taivoan, an indigenous people in Taiwan, were held. (Most Xiaolin residents were Taivoan). Two months after the disaster, surviving villagers built a temporary shrine and held their annual nocturnal sacrifice there. Many people who were from the village but now lived elsewhere also attended the ceremony.

Over the years since then, this traditional annual ceremony has been held just as usual. In 2018, the ceremony was held on October 23 at a shrine located at the Pingpu (lowland aborigines) Culture Park in Jiaxian, Kaohsiung. The park is in a new community for former residents of Xiaolin Village, the community in which Ye now lives.

There were ritual activities during the day and night during the ceremony. At night, tribal elders, wearing wreaths on their heads, led villagers in singing ancient tunes. Hand in hand they danced into the shrine and offered sacrificial goods to their guardian deities. Their singing and chanting were peaceful and serene. Despite the profound sadness they had experienced, the annual event allowed villagers of Xiaolin to gather together and find in each other the courage to press on in life’s journey.

However, the “annihilation” of the Xiaolin Village was such a painful memory that some people hadn’t yet emerged from the traumatic experience. Wang Hui-huang (王輝煌), 67, was out of town working when the typhoon hit and therefore escaped being killed in the landslide. His wife wasn’t so lucky—she was one of those killed in the event. Her death hit him hard. A few years ago, Wang’s daughter moved back with him to keep him company, and he began growing cacti. Cultivating the plants became the focus of his life, but it wasn’t enough to fill the emptiness in his heart. Missing his wife, he often cried. Ye Xiu-xia saw him on the morning of the annual nocturnal sacrifice, when he was leading a group of young people in fixing the straw roof of the shrine. But he disappeared back into his world after that, not wanting to face the crowd.

Looking at Wang’s desolate figure as he walked away, Ye knew very well that on the surface everyone’s life seemed to have gotten back on track, but the sense of loss in their hearts was still there. It would be very hard to truly heal those scars.

Ye (middle) wields a flag in an annual sacrificial ceremony. Zhang Qing-wen

Keep going

When she feels depressed and down, Ye especially looks forward to the visits of Fu Yu-nu. Fu regularly visits to chat and have lunch with her. Ye has felt more vulnerable since the disaster, and is especially afraid whenever a typhoon is coming. Knowing how she feels, Fu makes a point of phoning her at such times.

Ye and her husband made a living after the disaster by growing bananas on a rented plot of land of 1.4 acres, and by serving as tour guides for people visiting the local area. Unfortunately, another typhoon in 2016 razed their orchard and destroyed every single one of their banana trees.

To put food on the table, Ye tried to expand their sources of income. Inspired by the bamboo cups used during the annual nocturnal sacrifices, she created a product and marketed it. Every year during July and August she goes up to the mountains to pick wild bamboo shoots. She dries them and preserves them for sale. She and her fellow villagers who had run together for their lives years ago get together before Chinese New Year and make sticky rice cake, a food typically eaten during Chinese New Year, then post it for sale on the Internet. Similarly, they make and sell moon cakes using locally grown passion fruit before the arrival of the Mid-Autumn Festival.

Ye has since converted her banana orchard into a guava farm—guavas can be harvested several times a year. However, since farming is a livelihood heavily dependent on the weather, the couple’s income still isn’t very reliable. Instead of hiring hands to help, she and her husband try to do almost everything themselves.

One day near noon, Ye was bagging guavas growing on the trees on her farm to protect them from insects or other damage when she heard a loud rumble from afar. She raised her head to see a large mass of earth and rock falling down Mount Xiandu and stirring up thick clouds of dust. Though the major landslide happened over a decade ago, masses of earth and rock are still on the move.

The longan tree under which Ye and her fellow villagers had taken shelter after the disaster still stands tall. The canvas cloth they had used to protect themselves from the elements still lies, covered by earth, under the tree. But the Tai Zi Temple halfway up the mountain is gone, and Xiaolin Village is buried more than ten meters (33 feet) underground. Ye no longer sheds tears over that tragedy ten years ago, but she still deeply misses her lost family members. Nevertheless, she tells herself, “Those of us who have survived must do our best to carry on. We’ve received help from people around the world. We can never pay them back. The best way for us to thank them is to press on and keep living bravely.”


September 2019