Giant on the move
After Taiwan’s worst storm in 50 years killed hundreds in massive mudslides last month, the government blamed the freak weather while survivors said the government’s slow response after the Aug. 7-9 storm made matters even worse.
Only recently, with reconstruction under way, have officials in the six-county disaster area begun asking what contributing factors may have caused the steep mountainsides to give way, hurling boulders and walls of mud onto riverside villages below. Nearly 770 people are presumed to have died, most of them buried alive.
Taiwan’s forestry bureau says native subtropical trees had covered most of the deadly mudslide areas of Kaohsiung County in southern Taiwan, doing more to hold mountain sides intact than to loosen them. Villagers had planted mainly bamboo, mangoes, peaches and taro on the lower hillsides. They had shunned betel nut plantations and high-mountain tea, which are common elsewhere on the island and are notorious for destablising soil for lack of deep roots, an agricultural official said.
But how bad is the Beijing air really? Is it miserable beyond endurance for athletes busting their lungs to deliver peak performance? Or are the smog stories a smokescreen, part of the exaggeration attendant on any Olympic Games?
But as if having the Olympic cauldron lit by a “flying” gymnast Li Ning, suspended by wires high above the heads of 91,000 spectators, wasn’t proof enough that even gravity could be conquered by the world’s most populous nation, the government defied the elements as well.
With sensitivities running high among Beijing officials who promised a Green Olympics, including clear skies, any suggestion that the air quality is actually less than clear has caused some hurt feelings among the hosts.
It’s a prickly issue, because some athletes are limiting their time in Beijing, while four American track cyclists arrived yesterday in black face masks.
Olympic organisers are praying that it doesn’t rain on the athletes’ parade at next Friday’s opening ceremony, but a little drizzle might in fact add some fizzle to the lavish show.
“The lighting effects will be more beautiful with a bit of rain,” said Yves Pepin, a French hi-tech wizard, who is a senior member of the creative team for the 3-1/2 hour extravaganza.