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Tunnel construction did not cause landslides:Taiwan's Water Resources Agency

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) – The government’s Water Resources Agency denied reports Monday that the use of explosives to build a water tunnel was responsible for widespread landslides in Kaohsiung County during Typhoon Morakot.
Reports said explosions used to build a tunnel to transfer water from the Tsengwen Reservoir might have loosened up the soil, making it more susceptible to landslides during torrential rain.
Such explosions only affected the soil in a range of three meters around the tunnel, WRA Director-General Chen Shen-hsien said, naming heavy rains during the typhoon as the cause for the disaster.
The WRA had approved the project for a western tunnel 4.4 kilometers long and a 9.6-kilometer east tunnel to help alleviate future water needs in Chiahsien Township, Chen said.
Only the east tunnel project used explosives, and in amounts so small that the explosions could not be felt 400 meters away, according to Chen. It was impossible for locations like Hsiaolin, the worst-hit village in Chiahsien 11 kilometers away, to have been destroyed as a result of the tunnel project, the official said.
Chen said aerial pictures showed that the landslides happened close to the river, and away from the tunnel site. Mudslides and flooding also hit the counties of Chiayi and Taitung where no tunnel digging was on the way, showing there was no link between the disasters and the engineering projects, he said. Abnormally high amounts of rain and the long duration of the rain should be the main suspects, according to Chen.
Tainan County Magistrate Su Huan-jhih on Monday called for an immediate stop to the tunnel project. The tunnel crossed fault lines and passed through all the worst-affected townships during Typhoon Morakot, he said.
The project was a typical example of the government’s thinking of “man over nature,” so Tainan County had opposed it from the start, Su said. Such a project could only work if additional measures were taken first, such as strengthening anti-flood prevention along the Tsengwen River, he said.
Kaohsiung County also opposed the tunnel because it feared damage to hot springs in the area, according to Su.
The county magistrate also pointed out that the 28 people who had died in Tainan County during the typhoon could be linked to the large-scale release of extra water from the Tsengwen Reservoir.
Su said he would represent the victims’ families in filing for compensation from the central government. At the same time, he also advocated more scientific management of the reservoirs, with a warning system which would make it possible to evacuate residents from downstream areas at risk during the release of extra water.