Fear and anger as aftershocks rattle Taiwan quake survivors' nerves

Rescue workers place the body (bottom centre R) of a hotel worker recovered from the the Yun Tsui building, which is leaning at a precarious angle, in the Taiwanese city of Hualien on February 8, 2018 after the city was hit by a 6.4-magnitude quake late on February 6.
PHOTO: AFP

HUALIEN, Taiwan - At an elementary school turned shelter in Taiwan's Hualien city some survivors of a tower block left teetering by Tuesday's quake were baffled and angry that such a seemingly solid structure had folded with deadly results.

Emergency workers on Thursday were still pulling bodies from the 12-storey Yun Tsui apartment block, which was left tottering at a fifty-degree angle when its lower floors pancaked during the 6.4-magnitude quake. At least six of the nine confirmed dead so far perished there.

"It's unbelievable such a big building toppled," 66-year-old Chen Chien-hsiang told AFP as fellow residents huddled under blankets, occasional aftershocks rattling the school and their already frayed nerves.

"We question whether the structural integrity of the building was damaged. Otherwise why else would it fall the way it did?" he fumed.

Like many of those who survived, Chen had to crawl his way out of an apartment suddenly upended by the tremor.

"My TV, a traditional one, was flying like it was in space," he recalled. "All the appliances were really like they're flying." His apartment was on the sixth floor, but he managed to drag himself out of a window which was suddenly perched closer to the ground as a result of the quake.

"The sixth floor is usually quite high up but when I squeezed myself out the road was right there," he said.

Another resident, 70-year-old Chang Te-ching, said many apartment owners feared that the lower floors of the complex containing a hotel and restaurant may have lacked proper reinforcement to support the building's weight.

"Residential shouldn't be combined with commercial. There are laws regulating this but it hasn't been executed well," he said.

"But being angry only causes you more pain." .

6.4-magnitude quake strikes Hualien, Taiwan

  • A 6.4-magnitude quake on the east coast of Taiwan has left two dead and more than 200 injured after buildings crumbled and trapped people inside.
  • A hotel and a residential block were the worst hit by the quake in the port city of Hualien.
  • Five more buildings including a hospital had also been damaged.
  • Televison footage showed roads strewn with rubble, cracks along highways and damaged buildings tilted at angles.
  • “It’s the biggest quake I’ve experienced in Hualien in more than 10 years,” resident Blue Hsu told AFP, who said his home shook violently.
  • Hualien is one of Taiwan’s most popular tourist hubs as it lies on the picturesque east coast rail line and is near to popular Taroko Gorge.
  • Photos on Apple Daily showed a man calling for help from the window of an apartment block and a ceiling collapse at a local hospital.
  • Officials from Hualien fire department said 149 people had been rescued from damaged buildings.
  • Amy Chen, a 64-year-old flower arrangement teacher who was at home with her husband when the quake hit, told the semi-official Central News Agency: "I have never experienced an earthquake as large as this one. I am terrified."
  • The worst-hit Marshal Hotel partly crumpled into the ground.
  • Describing the scene at the Marshal Hotel, Hsu said the bottom storeys had been crushed.
  • “The lower floors sunk into the ground and I saw panicked tourists being rescued from the hotel. There is one bulldozer and about 50 rescuers on the scene,” he said.
  • Authorities said some people remained trapped but were unable to give an overall figure.
  • Rescuers from around the island were preparing to help, Taiwan’s president Tsai Ing-wen said on her Facebook page, promising rapid disaster relief.
  • There had been at least 15 aftershocks following the quake, Taiwan’s weather bureau said.
  • The quake hit at 11.50pm around 21km north-east of Hualien, according to the United States Geological Survey.
  • It follows almost 100 smaller tremors to have hit the area in the last three days.
  • The quake comes exactly two years since a quake of the same magnitude struck the southern Taiwanese city of Tainan, killing more than 100 people.
  • Taiwan lies near the junction of two tectonic plates and is regularly hit by earthquakes.
  • The island’s worst tremor in recent decades was a 7.6 magnitude quake in September 1999 that killed around 2,400 people.

OLDER BUILDINGS VULNERABLE

Taiwan sits on the western edge of the tectonically active Ring of Fire and routinely experiences earthquakes. After an especially deadly quake in 1999 killed more than 2,000 people, stricter building codes were brought in.

But many of Taiwan's older buildings remain perilously vulnerable to even moderate strength quakes.

A quake of similar magnitude exactly two years earlier in the city of Tainan toppled an older apartment building and killed 117 people.

Locals said the Yun Tsui apartment block was at least 24 years old.

A 50-year-old woman surnamed Wang said the quake and aftershocks had left her so shaken she didn't dare sleep in her home.

Instead she was bedding down at convenience stores which she felt were safer.

"How would I dare to stay inside (my home)? It's unusual to have such frequent shakes. I have a hunch there is another big one coming," she told AFP.

As rescuers risked their lives to find survivors, pulling two more bodies out on Thursday, many volunteers travelled to the eastern city to help those made homeless.

Lynn Chen, 29, drove her rainbow painted breakfast truck two hours from Yilan to offer free fried noodles and drinks outside the leaning apartment block.

"I think we will stay here until the rescue operation is finished," she said. "My dad lives in Hualien and I have friends here. I want to do what I can in my power to help."

 

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