April 12, 2024

Hualien earthquake: Dozens rescued after major earthquake in Taiwan, but more than 600 people still cut off


Rescue teams tried to reach more than 600 people on Thursday in eastern Taiwan, after the strongest earthquake to hit the island in decades, with the number of injured exceeding 1,000.

A day after the 7.4 magnitude earthquake hit the island just south of Hualien County, the hardest-hit region, aftershocks continued to shake the island. At least nine people were killed, buildings were destroyed and landslides were caused.

Taiwanese officials warned that aftershocks of magnitude 7 could continue until the end of the week.

Hualien resident Hong Changyi told CNN that his liquor store was in one of the buildings felled by the earthquake.

“All my goods, including all my supplies on the bottom floor, were destroyed,” he said. “My mind has become empty, as all my life’s work has disappeared.”

“The shops that have been operating for more than ten years have disappeared in one morning, it is painful to see,” he added. “But people are safe, so that’s fortunate.”

Workers demolish a damaged building after the earthquake in Hualien, Taiwan, April 4, 2024.

With such a large earthquake, the death toll remains relatively low and damage appears to be limited. In addition to nine deaths, 1,050 were injured and 42 were missing. According to Taiwan’s National Fire Brigade, 646 people are stranded but in contact with rescue teams.

While dozens of people were rescued overnight, authorities say efforts are focused on freeing people stranded in a quarry in Hualien, and reaching those cut off in the surrounding mountain gorges, a tourist destination popular with hikers.

By Thursday afternoon, all 64 people stranded at the Heping Quarry had been safely evacuated, the fire brigade said. Video showed rocks and debris along a path leading to the site.

One person was killed by falling stone at a second quarry, although six other workers were rescued. Dramatic video from firefighters showed a helicopter picking them up from a narrow cliff high in the mountains.

“There were too many stones, as if bullets were falling from above. We didn’t know where to run. We were all scared,” a worker rescued from the Zhonghe open-air mine told CNN affiliate SET News.

A rescue worker stands near the cordoned off area in the aftermath of an earthquake in Hualien, eastern Taiwan on Wednesday, April 3, 2024.

Drone footage from CNN affiliate CTS showed workers at the damaged quarry, located on the edge of a steep cliff high above the gorge.

Among the prisoners were 50 employees of the Silks Place Hotel Taroko, who were traveling to work in minibuses when the earthquake struck. After being inaccessible for most of Wednesday, three workers managed to walk to the hotel and reported the rest were safe, according to Central News Agency.

Video from firefighters on Thursday showed some of the trapped hotel staff in a road tunnel, with visible damage to their van. “They have been found,” you hear someone say. The Hualien Fire Department said rescuers waited until the roads were cleared to enter the tunnel, where another 20 tourists were also stranded, according to CNA.

The full extent of damage from the earthquake is still being assessed, with road and rail closures limiting access to the earthquake epicenter in Hualien County.

But videos and images showed several collapsed buildings in Hualien, and parts of the Suhua Highway – a narrow and windy cliff road connecting Hualien to northern Taiwan – completely crumbled or blocked by large boulders and rocks.

Some Hualien residents spent the night outside as the threat of more damage from aftershocks continued. Reuters reported that people were sleeping in tents on a sports field that had been converted into temporary shelter.

People affected by the earthquake enter a tent at a temporary shelter of a local school in Hualien on April 3, 2024.

“The aftershocks were terrifying. It’s non-stop. I dare not sleep in the house,” a 52-year-old Hualien resident surnamed Yu told Reuters.

Details have been released about those killed in the earthquake, most of whom were killed by fallen rocks, including hikers, road workers and people at scenic attractions in mountainous areas, Central News Agency reported Thursday.

CNN affiliate SET reported that a woman was killed in the partially collapsed Uranus Building in Hualien after initially escaping but returning to rescue her cat.

In addition to the six workers from the Zhonghe Quarry, 11 tourists – including three foreigners – have been rescued from the Swallow Grotto in Taroko Gorge National Park and 75 people stranded in various tunnels in Hualien County, according to Hualien Fire Bureau and Central News Agency. .

Wednesday’s earthquake is the strongest to hit Taiwan since 1999, according to the Central Weather Administration. That year, a magnitude 7.7 earthquake struck south of Taipei, killing 2,400 people and injuring 10,000 others.

Debris surrounds a building titled a day after a powerful earthquake in Hualien City, eastern Taiwan, Thursday, April 4, 2024.

But the damage and limited number of deaths from Wednesday’s earthquake are much lower. Daily life for residents of the capital Taipei was generally back to normal on Thursday, but residents closer to the epicenter are facing a lengthy cleanup.

63-year-old Hualien resident Deng Huimei told CNN that his house “was in shambles” after the earthquake and although it was still standing, huge cracks had appeared along the side of the stairs and “chunks of wall had fallen were all over the ground. .”

Deng said he has experienced several earthquakes and before fleeing his home, grabbed a bicycle helmet and sturdy shoes to protect himself from broken glass and debris.

“I grabbed my hard hat, changed my shoes and wanted to see if anyone outside needed help,” he said.

Most rail services in Taiwan have resumed on all lines and teams are working to clear debris in Hualien.

Hualien City Mayor Wei Jia-Yan told CNN that damage in the city is mainly limited to buildings that have partially collapsed and that constructors are assessing how dangerous these are. Some, he said, “can only be torn down and rebuilt.”

Lin Chih-cheng, of the Taiwan Professional Civil Engineers Association in Hualien, said Thursday that 100 buildings have been assessed as dangerous so far and demolition work has already begun on a dozen unsafe buildings.

Taiwan, a self-ruled island east of mainland China, is home to about 23 million people, most of whom live in the industrialized cities of its west coast, including the capital.

Hualien County, parts of which are mountainous and remote, is home to about 300,000 people on the island’s sparsely populated east coast. In 2018, a magnitude 6.2 earthquake struck near the area, killing at least 17 people and injuring more than 300 others.

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