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Staff writer TAIPEI — More than two months after a deadly earthquake struck Taiwan on Sept. 21, a well-paved road running through Taroko Canyon, one of the island’s more popular tourist destinations, still drew little vehicle traffic. “This area didn’t suffer any damage, but the occupancy rate of our guest rooms decreased 41 percent in October and November (from the previous year),” said Gillian Lee, a spokeswoman for Grand Formosa Taroko, a mountain resort hotel with 225 rooms in Hualien County, western Taiwan. “I think many people must have thought the roads leading here were blocked,” she said. “The number of guests is increasing in December, but the figures are still below last year’s.” Even though the quake- devastated areas were limited to central Taiwan, tourist destinations in other areas, such as Taipei and Hualien County, are suffering a decline in foreign visitors, said S.L. Chang, director general of the Ministry of Transportation and Communications’ tourism bureau. According to the bureau, the number of foreign visitors in October decreased 21.9 percent from the same month last year to 162,282. Among Japanese tourists, the drop was sharper — the figure stood at 44,805 for the month, a year-on-year decline of 34.8 percent. “About 820,000 Japanese visited Taiwan last year. Without the quake, we might have had more than 1 million Japanese travelers this year,” Chang said, noting the island’s tourism industry would probably lose an estimated 30 billion New Taiwan dollars (about 100 billion yen) by the end of December. Chang said many people might have been misled about the situation in Taiwan because of initial media reports that repeatedly showed collapsed buildings in Taipei. In actuality, visitors need not be concerned about inconveniences while traveling through most of Taiwan, because air, highway and rail systems as well as hotels are operating normally. In Taichung and Nantou counties, however, many buildings stand unoccupied. In some areas, even as damaged buildings are being razed, debris from the cleanup is piled up on narrow streets, bringing traffic to a halt. In late October, the tourism bureau and travel agents began promoting quake-devastated areas as travel destinations, setting up four tour courses through the quake-damaged areas for educational purposes. These sites include the facilities and track field at Kuangfu Junior High School in Wufeng, Taichung County, which lay right along the fault line, a collapsed bridge and waterfall made by the quake in Dungshr, Taichung County, and Sun Moon Lake, a popular scenic spot located 12.5 km east of Jiji in Nantou County, above the epicenter of the quake. “More courses may be added in the future after the safety of the areas is checked,”Chang said, noting the government’s plan to restore the Sun Moon Lake area and designate it a national park. Although the temblor hurt Taiwan’s tourism, it seems to have had little impact on the semiconductor business, its major industry. In the Hsinchu Science-based Industrial Park, 80 km north of Taichung, most companies were able to resume operations five days after the quake, according to Taro Hosono, president of Shin-Etsu Handotai Taiwan Co., one of about 330 high-tech companies in the industrial park. “Our company suffered no major damage, but we couldn’t manufacture semiconductor chips at our factory for five days because electricity was out,” Hosono said. “But I don’t think the quake adversely affected our business, because our rivals also had to suspend operations.” Total losses from the quake are estimated at NT$180 billion (about 630 billion) yen, including losses of NT$10 billion (about 35 billion yen) for the manufacturing industry, according to Chiang Pin-kung, chairman of the government’s Council for Economic Planning and Development. “Before the quake hit, we set our economic growth target at 5.74 percent for this year,” Chiang said. The expected increase, he said, has now been lowered to about 5.4 percent. The government is taking various emergency measures to aid survivors. Compensation is being paid to people whose family members died or were severely injured in the temblor and those whose homes were damaged. In addition, each member of a family whose home was destroyed receives NT$3,000 (about 10,000 yen) per month as a housing rent subsidy. Loans with no interest or lower-than-normal interest rates are available for people who rebuild or repair homes. While the government is drawing up a reconstruction plan that will allow survivors to return to normal daily life and rebuild local industries and infrastructure, more than 10,000 people still live in tents or temporary public housing units, according to the Government Information Office. In a public temporary housing village in Dungshr, Lai Zhi-xiang, 75, whose house collapsed in the quake, said he was relieved in mid-October when he and his wife were able to move from a tent to one of the 1,000 temporary housing units used by survivors of the 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake and later donated to Taiwan. About 140 households are located in the village, erected at a former military hospital site. Each housing unit is equipped with home appliances, including a refrigerator, television set, washing machine and gas stove. The village also has a 7-Eleven convenience store, three public phones where calls can be made free of charge, three meeting rooms, a nursery center and a medical office. In exchange for staying in public housing units without paying rent, dwellers gave up their right to receive the rent subsidies. The government is also offering public apartments to quake survivors at 30 percent below the normal rent. “This unit is much more comfortable, although I have to walk 1 km to go shopping,” said Lai, a former bus driver who lives on his retirement allowance. “I want a permanent home as soon as possible, but I don’t know when it will happen.”

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