Taking an archive news film about the August 7 flood as the starting point of discussions
The Taichung Earthquake of 1935, the August 7 floods of 1959, 1999’s Chi-chi Earthquake and the 2009 August 8 typhoon disaster are probably the natural disasters that have hit Taiwan in the last 100 years that have caused the most deaths and injuries and are etched deepest in the collective memory of the people. As the first anniversary of last’s year’s August 8 flood disaster approached, I visited the Digital Archives in the hope of finding out how people survived through this and other trying times. 

Taiwan was hit by Typhoon Alan on August 7, 1959. Battered by strong winds and heavy rains for three days and nights, 13 cities and counties were flooded and 180,000 people were made homeless, with over 1000 dead or missing. The floods slashed 10% off the national GDP for that year. The Central News Agency’s commemorative webpage (http://km.cca.gov.tw/myphoto/show.asp?categoryid=36) carries a complete record of the floods and background information, however, “Disasters make the country stronger,” an news old news film in the Digital Archives that commemorates the August 7 floods and the recovery work and was made by Taiwan Provincial Film Co. grabbed my attention.


Taiwan Provincial Film Co(Aug. 5, 1959-Sept 2, 1959)。“Disasters make the country stronger,”。《Digital Archives Union Catalog》http://catalog.digitalarchives.tw/?URN=3808065(Visited on Aug 6, 2010)
In addition to recording the disaster as it unfolded it also has many sad scenes from after the tragedy, for example, at the six minute and 40 second point, we see scenes from a few days after the typhoon had passed in which, because the bridges have been washed away and the roads submerged, the flood victims are crossing a still-swollen river, trousers and dresses rolled up, stumbling along the road to reconstruction. As someone who lives in the safety of the city today it is hard to imagine how it feels to lose everything but still have to struggle to survive.

After last year’s disaster the ROC government was criticized for not accepting the offer of helicopters from the US and Japan to help in the relief effort. The Minister of Defense said at one point that the distance across the ocean was too great for helicopters to fly. However, in this film we can see that a US Navy LPH Amphibious Assault Helicopter Carrier,the USS Thetis,LPH-6, took part in relief efforts and transported goods. The films shows the ship’s cooks “All doing overtime baking bread for the disaster victims, packing it in boxes, carrying them up from the kitchen to the deck and loading them onto helicopters” from where they were flown to an airport in Taiwan and then transported to the disaster hit areas.

After last year’s August 8 floods many roads were cut and communication with the outside depended on helicopters. If more helicopters had been available the victims would have received more help and the burden on the police helicopters and crews would have been lighter; maybe the two pilots that were killed would have survived. After watching this film, I can’t help but feeling that if the technical problems associated with bringing foreign helicopters to Taiwan could be solved 50 years ago there is really no excuse to justify not overcoming any problems today when science and technology is so much more advanced. Maybe if senior government had seen this news film before the disaster would they had made a better decision?

As Confucius said “Man can exalt the Way, not the Way exalt Man.”Archive films need to be seen and discussed if they are to have deep meaning. Through this film from the Chinese Taipei Film Archive we can look back at and commemorate the August 7 flood of 1959. When we see films like this, aside from feeling lucky to live in safety, can we learn from the historic events they show? In the future, when we face challenges and difficulties can we think up better ways to save lives so that the lives of those killed in past disasters were not wasted? 


Text and films are provided by TELDAP e-Newsletter (December, 2010)