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SHIAO LIN, Taiwan (CNN) -- The number of people killed in Taiwan by Typhoon Morakot, a destructive storm that swept through East Asia last week, could triple because hundreds of people are feared trapped under mudslides, the president's office said Friday.
Since the typhoon made landfall over the weekend, more than 31,000 people have been pulled from villages inundated by mudslides and floodwaters, according to official government figures.
CREWS OPEN ROAD TO STRICKEN AREA
After days of dispatching helicopters to rescue survivors and distribute food in Hsiao Lin, authorities opened a road into the stricken district on Thursday. [ID:nSP319394]
But it was now unlikely that anyone trapped since Monday in the landslide had survived.
"The county magistrate gave the premier a report that in his judgement about 300 were dead," a Government Information Office section chief said.
"These are the conditions now. Specific numbers will depend on the army opening the road and sending people in."
Morakot has caused about T$30 billion ($910 million) in losses to agriculture and infrastructure and reconstruction is expected to cost about T$120 billion. The government spent about the same amount after a 1999 earthquake that killed 2,400 people.
The typhoon has knocked out 34 bridges and severed 253 segments of road in Taiwan, with repairs expected to take up to three years in the worst spots, the transportation ministry said.
In Cishan, a storm-ravaged town of 41,000, both road bridges had collapsed, smashing houses and taking down cars. Residents jammed a footbridge which remained standing.
Army crews used earth movers to clear mud from roads as hundreds of people cleaned homes or storefronts, heaving out water-logged possessions.
"My store has been closed for days because I figured no one could get to it," said Chen Chih-lu, who owns a furniture shop in Cishan. "My guess is 90 percent of us are digging out of the mud."
Taiwan flood toll could top 500
RESCUERS are battling to save thousands of people trapped in mountain villages as Taiwan's leader warns the death toll from devastating floods will likely top 500.
More than 50,000 troops were struggling to cross raging rivers and fallen bridges to reach victims across southern and central Taiwan, many of whom have been without food and water since Typhoon Morakot struck nearly a week ago.
President Ma Ying-jeou warned the island-wide death toll of 117 would likely rise dramatically.
"With 117 confirmed deaths from the typhoon and some 380 people feared buried by mudslides in Hsiaolin village, Taiwan's death toll could rise to more than 500," he told a national security meeting.
As anger over the Government's response mounted, Ma vowed the whole nation would mobilise to help the victims.
"The Government will overcome all obstacles to accomplish the mission," he said.
The typhoon dumped more than 3m, setting off flooding and mudslides which tore through houses and buildings, ripped up roads and smashed bridges.
Ma's administration has been criticised for being too slow to see the magnitude of the crisis in which hundreds of villages were cut off by mudslides, leaving them only accessible by air.
Dozens of helicopters have been criss-crossing the mountains and ravines of the region delivering food and water, and airlifting survivors.