Friday, May 13, 2005

Hitting home

I'm almost certain none of you have heard about the hiking casualties in Taiwan last night. Even if you had, I doubt it would mean anything more to you than a headline among headlines. But, as a Taiwan resident, this incident hits much closer to my home -- and this blog is your doorway into that home.

Heavy "plum rains" cause casualties [2005-05-13 / Taiwan News, Staff Reporter / By Shih Hsiu-chuan]

Torrential downpours brought by seasonal "plum rain" weather fronts yesterday caused at least four casualties and disrupted railways services in northern and central Taiwan.

Up to press time last night, rescuers were still searching for four people who were struck by a landslide in Nantou Country while mountain climbing in a group of 37 people from the SRAM Taiwan company, based in Taichung.

According to television reports, three of the climbers were buried under the landslide, while a fourth person was struck by a falling rock and fell off the mountain in Nantou County into a valley below. A fifth person was reportedly still trapped in the mountain by the landslide, but the other 32 members of the group had been rescued and moved to safe locations.

The Central Weather Bureau said that yesterday an estimated 200 millimeters of rain fell in some areas of Taiwan, such as Miaoli and Hsinchu counties, in a period of two to three hours, while other areas like Yangmingshan and Taipei County experienced rainfall of up to 100 millimeters.

SRAM is a biking and outdoor supply company. My friend Terri teaches English to the workers there and she and my roommate Josh often join them for their outings (road biking, mountain biking, hiking, etc.).

They were among the 37 hikers trapped in this incident.

In fact, Terri was one of the three that slid down the mountain to a muddy burial. Josh found his way down to them and unearthed them. Terri hurt her knee and head while Josh's hands were injured from all the climbing and digging he did. Two of Terri's students were buried to death a few feet away while Josh dug her out.

The SRAM team took off very early Friday morning for the hike, but I only heard about their trouble that evening. I headed to some friends' house and as we realized how perilous the situation was -- "Ha, they’re stuck in the rain! ... Oh, wait, three people slid down the mountain...?" -- we prayed *like mad*. In a mudslide, and even in ringside seats to it, like I had, there are no illusions. At all times, we are in no other hands than God's but when the thunder claps and the earth crumbles beneath us and our strength deserts us, all we can do is offer ourselves to Him in that naked, intrusive, humbling truth.

I and my mission teammates had a distressingly (and yet also comfortingly) live feed through Vincent, a Taiwanese SRAM employee and a member of Banner Church, via Stephen and Linda, both Taiwanese staff workers at Banner. Vincent was stuck on the trail but managed to send out cell phone updates every hour or so. I don't know either of the dead or missing person, but I pray God has mercy on their souls as well. The good news is Josh and Terri have made it back to Taichung and have been discharged from the hospital. Lost gear, head stitches, scars, bruises, aches, nightmares, deep sighs, dry throats, tears.

Pray, with us, for us.

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