Search is on for Missing Tourists

TAIPEI, Taiwan – Rescuers rappelled down a cliff Monday trying to trace 21 Chinese tourists whose bus is believed to have tumbled off a narrow coastal road in Taiwan as a fierce typhoon lashed east Asia last week.

Rescue officials told reporters they have found one body and assorted body parts in the area, but no definitive identifications had yet been made.

Debris from the bus found along the rocky slope suggests the vehicle may have fallen off the road and into the sea more than 300 yards (meters) below.

Rescuers in helicopters and ships searched for victims in the water.

Relatives in China of the missing tourists, from the southern city of Zhuhai, have blamed a Taiwanese travel agency — Taipei-based Chuang Yi Travel — for failing to take necessary precautions when Typhoon Megi passed by the island Thursday.

A Chuang Yi spokesman was not immediately available for comment.

Despite record rains and the road’s vulnerability to mud- and rockslides, Taiwanese officials failed to close the highway that winds precariously along the northeastern coast. Multiple mudslides caused by the typhoon stranded other vehicles carrying about 400 people, who were eventually rescued.

Megi took at least 28 lives in the Philippines and 12 in Taiwan, including nine buried alive when a mudslide obliterated a Buddhist temple in Ilan county, which sustained a record 45 inches (114 centimeters) of rain. The storm dumped up to 13 inches (33 centimeters) of rain on Chinese coastal villages and caused major damage to fishing boats and shellfish beds in Fujian province.

Chinese tourism to Taiwan has exploded since Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou took office more than two years ago. An average of 2,500 mainland visitors arrive daily — helping to lower tensions across the Taiwan Strait to their lowest point since the two sides split amid civil war in 1949.

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