Taiwan Earthquake: Deaths Confirmed As Rescuers Scour Toppled Buildings

Taiwan Earthquake: Deaths Confirmed As Rescuers Scour Toppled Buildings

Thursday, 8 February, 2018 - 09:30
A damaged damaged building is seen after an earthquake hit Hualien, Taiwan February 8, 2018. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
Asharq Al Awsat
Scores of aftershocks hampered rescue efforts on Thursday as emergency personnel combed through collapsed buildings and a dangerously leaning apartment block in search of survivors after a powerful earthquake wrecked havoc near Taiwan’s popular tourist city of Hualien.

At least 10 people were killed and 265 injured when a 6.4-magnitude quake struck the popular eastern tourist city of Hualien on Tuesday just before midnight (1600 GMT), according to a revised toll from the national fire agency which also slashed the number of missing from nearly 60 people to 10.

Nervous residents endured more than 200 aftershocks, including a 5.7 quake late on Wednesday and smaller tremors early on Thursday. Aftershocks with a magnitude of at least 5.0 could rock the island over the next two weeks, the government said.

The powerful tremor left a handful of buildings badly damaged -- some of them leaning at precarious angles -- as well as roads torn up and hundreds forced to shelter in local schools and a stadium.

Horns sounded to warn people to leave buildings and chanting from groups of Buddhists could also be heard.

It was initially feared as many as 150 people may have been missing in the rubble. The death toll had been put at seven overnight.

The major focus for emergency responders remained the Yun Tsui apartment block where six of the deaths occurred. Many of the missing were believed to be trapped in the 12-story residential building that was tilting at a 45-degree angle. Tenants and their furniture were flung across their apartments in the damaged building.

Despite those risks, rescuers kept going into the building in a desperate search for survivors. But Thursday's search only recovered two bodies -- a Chinese mainland tourist and a hotel worker.

Strong aftershocks continued to strike, sending the teams scurrying from the building, only for them to return a little later and resume their grim task.

More than 600 soldiers and 1,300 police have been deployed to help with rescue efforts. The government said three mainland Chinese were among the dead.

Chen Deming, president of China’s Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait, said the mainland was willing to assist with relief efforts, including sending teams to the island.

Rescue workers used ladders and flashlights as they searched for survivors among the rubble on Thursday.

More than 800 people sought refuge in shelters overnight, many too scared to stay in their homes as aftershocks stirred panic.

Hualien is home to about 100,000 people. Its streets were buckled by the force of the quake, with large cracks along major roads.

President Tsai Ing-wen, who on Wednesday visited survivors 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."

The Hualien quake came exactly two years to the day after a similar sized tremor struck the western city of Tainan, killing 117 people.

Most of those who perished died in a single apartment block which collapsed. 

Five people were later found guilty over the disaster, including the developer and two architects, for building an inadequate structure.

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

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

Taiwan, a self-ruled island that China considers part of its territory, lies near the junction of two tectonic plates and is prone to earthquakes. An earthquake with a magnitude of 6.1struck nearby on Sunday.

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