TAIPEI - Search and rescue efforts continued in earnest Monday in Tainan on the third day after the Kaohsiung Meinong earthquake struck Southern Taiwan, with President Ma Ying-jeou building on a burgeoning spirit of national unity by proclaiming: "Today we are all Tainanese."
The president made the remark in the heavily hit southern city, where he visited residents saved from the rubble at hospitals in the area.
His statement echoed a similar statement made on Sunday by President-elect Tsai Ing-wen. He emphasised that search efforts are not limited to 72 hours, urging people not to give up hope of finding other survivors.
The death toll from the quake has reached 38, while 535 are injured (89 hospitalised) with 124 awaiting rescue (93 adults and 31 children).
Hope is alive
That hope was galvanized in the successful rescue of a 40-year-old man, Lee Chung-tian from the rubble of the collapsed Weiguan Jinlong building, the now symbolic image of the earthquake's devastation. Approximately 120 people are believed to remain trapped in the once 16-story block of apartments.
Trapped 55 hours following the 6.4 magnitude quake that struck on early Saturday morning, Lee was finally freed by rescuers amid cheers from family members.
Lee's retrieval from the rubble had been hampered by a concrete slab that had pinned down his legs, with rescue personnel debating whether or not an onsite amputation was necessary to free him.
Due to the risk of infection and blood loss, rescuers decided against an amputation, and instead punctured a hole in the slab to free Lee.
"I feel good," he said amid cheers following his rescue. Lee's left leg (from the calf downward) required amputation due to extensive damage after being crushed.
A squad leader of a Red Cross Society of the R.O.C. rescue team, Chang Te-chung, reminded people that some quake victims survived up to 15 days following the massive earthquake that struck Haiti in 2010.
The critical factor was to ensure that those trapped could gain access to food and that there was room for air to circulate.
Rescue workers face daunting challenges due to the collapse pattern of the originally U-shaped Weiguan complex.
While most of those originally trapped are on the former top levels of the building's eastern wing, getting access to Building A (the complex's west side) will prove difficult as it has been submerged by other parts of the original structure.
Current plans are to use heavy machinery to dig a rescue corridor in the cleared eastern wing in order to gain access from the former middle portion of the complex.
Push building inspections nationwide: Tsai
Meanwhile the president-elect stated that she would make building safety inspections a policy priority once her new government takes office.
Speaking to reporters after visiting earthquake survivors in Tainan's Chimei Hospital, Tsai said that a comprehensive assessment of building safety needs to be conducted nationwide and that improved building codes would need to be upgraded and implemented through extensive urban renewal projects.