Final bodies removed from rubble of Taiwan quake

PHOTO: AFP

Taipei - The last two victims of an earthquake that hit the Taiwan tourist hotspot of Hualien three weeks ago have finally been removed from the rubble of a collapsed hotel.

The Chinese couple from Beijing who were on a sightseeing trip had already been named among the 17 dead after a 6.4-magnitude quake toppled buildings in the coastal town.

But their bodies remained in a second-floor hotel in the 12-storey Yun Tsui building, which was left leaning at around a 50-degree angle by the quake, complicating rescue efforts due to fears of an imminent collapse.

Emergency workers had combed through rubble at the foot of the mainly residential block since the quake struck the eastern city on February 6, retrieving the last two bodies Sunday.

Three other members of the couple's family were also killed in the quake. Of the 17 people who died, 14 perished in the Yun Tsui building.

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.

Hualien mayor Fu Kun-chi had said the last two victims were pinned under heavy pillars that could not be removed without risking a total collapse of the building, and the rescue was called off with the consent of their relatives six days after the quake hit.

Excavators began digging through the building from the top to recover the bodies.

Hualien county government said the bodies of the Chinese couple had been sent to a local funeral parlour and their relatives had been informed.

Three partially collapsed buildings in Hualien are being demolished, including the local landmark Marshal Hotel where one employee was killed.

Hualien, on Taiwan's rugged east coast, is one of the most popular tourist destinations on the quake-prone island.

Taiwan's worst quake in recent decades was a 7.6-magnitude tremor in September 1999 that killed around 2,400 people.

The disaster ushered in stricter building codes but many of Taiwan's older buildings remain perilously vulnerable to even moderate quakes.

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