Rescuers search for people out of contact in Taiwan after strong earthquake

Rescuers search for people out of contact in Taiwan after strong earthquake

HUALIEN, Taiwan (AP): Rescuers searched Thursday for dozens of people still out of contact a day after Taiwan’s strongest earthquake in a quarter century damaged buildings, caused multiple rockslides and killed nine people.

In the eastern coastal city of Hualien near the epicenter, workers used an excavator to stabilize the base of the damaged Uranus Building with construction materials, as some officers took samples of its exterior and chickens browsed amid potted plants on its slanted roof.

Mayor Hsu Chen-wei previously said 48 residential buildings had been damaged, some of which were tilting at precarious angles with their ground floors crushed.

Some Hualien residents were still staying in tents, but much of the island’s day-to-day life was returning to normal. Some local rail service to Hualien resumed, and Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. restarted most operations, the Central News Agency reported.

Hendri Sutrisno, a 30-year-old professor at Hualien Dong Hwa University, spent Wednesday night in a tent with his wife and baby, fearing aftershocks.
“We ran out of the apartment and waited for four to five hours before we went up again to grab some important stuff such as our wallet. And then we’re staying here ever since to assess the situation,” he said.

Others also said they didn’t dare to go home because the walls of their apartments were cracked and they lived on higher floors. Taiwanese Primer Chen Chien-jen visited some earthquake evacuees in the morning at a temporary shelter.

Nearly 1,070 people were injured in the quake that struck Wednesday morning. Of the nine dead, at least four were killed inside Taroko National Park, a Hualien County tourist attraction famous for canyons and cliffs, about 150 kilometers (90 miles) from the island’s capital Taipei. One person was found dead in the Uranus Building and another was found in the Ho Ren Quarry.

About 690 people were either still trapped or out of contact Thursday, including over 600 who were stranded inside a hotel called Silks Place Taroko, the National Fire Agency said. Authorities said the employees and guests at the hotel were safe and work to repair the roads to the facility was close to completion.

Others who were reported to be trapped, including two dozen tourists and six university students, were safe too, they said.

Authorities also said some 60 workers, who had been unable to leave a quarry due to blocked and damaged roads, were freed. Central News Agency said all of them got off the mountain safely around noon. Six workers from another quarry were airlifted out.

Around 40 people, mostly hotel employees earlier reported to be in the national park, were still out of contact with authorities.

For hours after the quake, local television showed neighbors and rescue workers lifting residents through windows and onto the street from damaged buildings where the shaking had jammed doors shut. It wasn’t clear Thursday morning if any people were still trapped in buildings.

The quake and its aftershocks caused landslides and damaged roads, bridges and tunnels. The national legislature and sections of Taipei’s main airport suffered minor damage.

The quake was the strongest to hit Taiwan in 25 years. Local authorities measured the initial quake’s strength as 7.2 magnitude, while the US Geological Survey put it at 7.4.

Huang Shiao-en was in her apartment when the quake struck. “At first the building was swinging side to side, and then it shook up and down,” Huang said.
The Central Weather Administration has recorded more than 300 aftershocks from Wednesday morning into Thursday.

Taiwan is regularly jolted by earthquakes and its population is well-prepared for them. It also has stringent construction requirements to ensure buildings are quake-resistant.

The economic losses caused by the quake are still unclear. The self-ruled island is the leading manufacturer of the world’s most sophisticated computer chips and other high-technology items that are sensitive to seismic events.

Hualien was last struck by a deadly quake in 2018, which killed 17 people and brought down a historic hotel. Taiwan’s worst recent quake struck on Sept. 21, 1999, a magnitude 7.7 temblor that caused 2,400 deaths, injuring around 100,000 and destroying thousands of buildings.