Rescuers brave aftershocks as Taiwan quake toll rises to 9

PHOTO: AFP

HUALIEN, TAIWAN - Taiwanese rescuers braved powerful aftershocks to search for survivors in a dangerously leaning apartment block that was partially toppled by a quake, locating two more bodies early Thursday to bring the death toll to nine as dozens remain missing.

A 6.4-magnitude quake hit the popular eastern tourist city of Hualien late Tuesday, leaving a handful of buildings badly damaged - some of them leaning at terrifying angles - as well as roads torn up and hundreds sheltering in local schools and a stadium.

The major focus for emergency responders remained the Yun Tsui apartment block where the majority of the deaths occurred and dozens are still missing.

The lower floors of the 12-storey tower - which also housed a hotel - pancaked, leaving the structure leaning at a fifty-degree angle and sparking fears of an imminent collapse.

Despite those risks rescuers kept going into the building throughout Wednesday night and Thursday morning in a desperate search for survivors.

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.

Strong aftershocks coursed through the ground sending rescue teams running from the building, only for them to return a little while later and resume their grim task. One aftershock shortly before midnight on Thursday measured 5.7-magnitude.

Chu Che-min, the Hualien fire department's rescue team leader at the scene, told AFP they located two more bodies overnight.

"We discovered the body of a Chinese woman at the hotel in Yun Tsui (building) earlier this morning and located another person who's a hotel staffer," he said.

POPULAR TOURIST SPOT

In a updated toll, the national fire agency said nine people had now been confirmed killed in the quake including three Chinese mainland nationals. The three mainland victims were all believed to be staying at the Beauty Stay Hotel, which was located on the second floor of the apartment block.

At least 62 people remain unaccounted for across the city. In the apartment block, 37 people are missing from flats alongside 10 hotel guests. More than 250 people were injured in the tremor, the strongest to hit Hualien in decades.

Hualien is one of Taiwan's most popular tourist hubs as it lies on the picturesque east coast rail line and near the popular Taroko Gorge. But the mountains that rise up behind the city - and bestow Taiwan's east coast with such majestic beauty - are a testament to the deadly tectonic faultlines that run through the island.

The government said 17 foreigners sought medical treatment for minor injuries. Local broadcaster SET TV ran an interview with a man who said he was the husband of one of the Chinese mainland victims.

The woman, named as 39-year-old Yu Fei, was travelling with the couple's young son on the island. The son survived the quake with light injuries.

She was pulled from the wrecked building and later died in hospital.

"They were travelling on their own as I was busy and couldn't accompany them," the man, who had rushed from the mainland Chinese city of Xiamen, said.

"I got in touch with my son, he cried. I haven't seen him in person."

President Tsai Ing-wen, who visited survivors on Wednesday and the Yun Tsui apartment block, praised emergency responders.

"Rescuers on the scene and hospital staffers continue to dedicate themselves fully to the rescue works," she wrote on Facebook. "Stay hopeful and never give up."

Purchase this article for republication.

SERVICES