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Taiwan races against time to rescue 18 people as 400 aftershocks rock island after deadly quake

Taiwan’s weather agency warns of more aftershocks, prompting ‘terrified’ residents to sleep in tents

Alisha Rahaman Sarkar,Tom Watling
Friday 05 April 2024 09:36 BST
Taiwan: Moment nurses rush to protect newborns during earthquake

Rescuers in Taiwan raced against time on Friday to find 18 people, including foreign nationals, still missing two days after the island was jolted by the strongest earthquake in 25 years.

The death toll from Wednesday’s 7.4-magnitude earthquake rose to 12, authorities said, with more than 1,000 people sustaining injuries.

Taiwan’s Fire Department said searchers discovered two more bodies in the mountains, with the death toll expected to rise further.

Authorities identified three of the missing individuals as Australian and Canadian nationals as rescuers continued to try and save hundreds of people still stranded after rocks and mud blocked the roads leading to their hotels, campgrounds or work sites in the eastern Hualien area.

At least 50 aftershocks rattled the area overnight, some felt as far away as capital Taipei, after 400 tremors were initially recorded from Wednesday morning into Thursday night by the Central Weather Administration.

Rescuers said about 400 people cut off in a luxury hotel in the Taroko Gorge national park were safe, with helicopters ferrying out the injured and bringing supplies.

“Rain increases the risks of rockfalls and landslides, which are currently the biggest challenges,” Su Yu-ming, the leader of a search team helping the rescue effort, told Reuters.

“These factors are unpredictable, which means we cannot confirm the number of days required for the search and rescue operations.”

Some 700 people remained cut off, the vast majority of them employees and guests at a hotel in the national park.

Authorities said they were safe and had food and water, and that work to repair the roads to the hotel was nearly finished. Another 10 workers from the same hotel were stranded elsewhere in the park, after most of the others in the group were rescued or managed to walk out.

A relative hugs a man who was rescued from a remote area, following the earthquake, in Hualien (Reuters)

A group of 50 workers, who were on their way to the hotel and had been trapped on roads, were later rescued.

“I am lucky to survive this disaster. We were terrified, especially when the earthquake first happened, we thought it was all over, all over, all over, because it was an earthquake, right?” said David Chen, 63, a security manager at the hotel.

“As we were leaving, rocks were still falling. We had to navigate through the gaps between the falling rocks, with the search and rescue team upfront,” he added.

Premier Chen Chien-je visited a disaster response center in Hualien as the federal government announced the allocation of NT$300m (£7.41m) for recovery efforts.

Japan on Friday said the would provide $1m (£791,750) in relief aid to Taiwan to support rescue activities and recovery.

Some 200 residents of Hualien County near the epicentre were staying in temporary shelters when the aftershocks struck, and the main road linking the county to Taipei was still closed Thursday afternoon.

“The aftershocks were terrifying,” said Yu, a 52-year-old woman from Hualien, who gave only her family name. “It’s non-stop. I do not dare to sleep in the house.”

Outside the city, a helicopter ferried to safety six miners trapped on a cliff in a dramatic rescue after the quake cut off the roads into Hualien’s soaring mountains, in footage shown by the department.

Two trapped workers of Taroko National Park have a physical examination after being rescued (AP)

The Agriculture Ministry urged people to keep away from the mountains because of the risk of falling rocks and the formation of “barrier lakes” as water pools behind unstable debris.

Rescue workers reached the a in Taroko Gorge, cut off by the quake, by helicopter and established that all 400 people there were safe. The fire department said work to reopen the road would continue in the morning.

In the city, dozens of residents queued outside one badly damaged 10-storey building, waiting to go in and retrieve belongings.

Clad in helmets and accompanied by government personnel, each was given 10 minutes to collect valuables in huge garbage bags, though some saved time by throwing items out of windows into the street below.

People look on as workers carry out operations on a partially-collapsed building following the earthquake (Reuters)

“This building is no longer liveable,” said Tian Liang-si, who had a home on the fifth floor, as she scrambled to gather her laptop, family photographs and other crucial items.

She recalled the moment the quake struck, sending the building lurching and furniture sliding, while she rushed to save her four puppies.

A relative hugs a man who was rescued from a remote area, following the earthquake, in Hualien, Taiwan (Reuters)

Of the 12 dead, at least four were killed inside Taroko National Park, a tourist attraction famous for canyons and cliffs in mountainous Hualien about 90 miles from Taipei.

One person was found dead in a damaged building and another was found in the Ho Ren Quarry. Rescuers also carried out the body of a man, who had severe wounds on his head, from a hiking trail on Thursday.

Hualien was last struck by a deadly quake in 2018 which killed 17 people and brought down a historic hotel.

Taiwan’s worst recent earthquake struck on 21 September 1999, a magnitude 7.7 temblor that caused 2,400 deaths, injured around 100,000 and destroyed thousands of buildings.

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