Vice Foreign Minister Andrew Hsia has become the first Taiwan government official to tender his resignation in the wake of Typhoon Morakot. The resignation came as President Ma Ying-jeou promised changes to improve the government's response to disasters.
Taiwan's President Ma says the military will be reorganized to better respond to disasters in the future. He also says that areas near the landslide zone will be surveyed to see if they are suitable for human habitation.
Heavy rains from Typhoon Morakot 10 days ago caused massive landslides in mountainous regions, which cut off roads and destroyed hundreds of homes.
Speaking to foreign journalists Tuesday, Mr. Ma said in the past 10 days 39,000 people had been evacuated from mountain villages. He faulted heavy rains for the slow progress in rescuing trapped villagers in the first few days after the storm.
"If we had had better weather, we could have done it faster and better," Ma said.
Earlier Tuesday, Deputy Foreign Minister Hsia tendered his resignation. He said he took responsibility for a memo sent to overseas diplomatic offices last week instructing them to decline offers of non-monetary aid from other countries. Two days after the memo, the government reversed course, but only after criticism had mounted over the pace of rescue efforts.
President Ma says Hsia's resignation is justified.
"It was him who approved the letter to our foreign missions, that we will accept donations, but we will not accept other materials," Ma said. "And this is contrary to our policy."
Mr. Ma, however, said he would not resign.
The official death count from the storm stands at 127, but Mr. Ma says an additional 380 may have died in Shiaolin, a village hit directly by a mudslide. Thousands remain stranded in surrounding villages, which are reachable only by rescue helicopters.
Since Taiwan began accepting aid last Thursday, more than 60 countries have donated about $2 million in cash and relief supplies to help the Taiwan army, which is carrying out relief operations.