April 12, 2024

Rescue workers in Taiwan search for people missing after a major earthquake

HUALIEN, Taiwan (AP) — Rescuers searched Thursday for dozens of people still missing a day after Taiwan’s strongest earthquake. Over a quarter of a century, buildings were damaged, nine people were killed and others were left in remote areas or sleeping in tents.

In the eastern coastal city of Hualien, near the epicenter, workers used an excavator to stabilize the base of a damaged building with construction materials, while some officers took samples of the exterior and chickens rummaged through potted plants on the sloping roof.

Mayor Hsu Chen-wei said earlier that 48 residential buildings were damaged, some of which were at dangerous angles and the ground floors were crushed.

Some residents of Hualien were still staying in tents, and the main road connecting the province with the capital and the island’s capital was still closed on Thursday afternoon, but much of daily life on the island returned to normal. Some local rail services to Hualien were resumed and the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. – one of the world’s top computer chip manufacturers – resumed most operations, the Central News Agency reported.

Taiwan is regularly shaken by earthquakes and the population is well prepared for them. There are also strict construction requirements to ensure that buildings are earthquake-resistant.

A structural engineer takes samples from a leaning building a day after a powerful earthquake occurred in Hualien City, eastern Taiwan, on April 4, 2024.

Chiang Ying-ying via Associated Press

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 four to five hours before going back upstairs to grab some important things, like our wallet. And since then, we have been staying here to assess the situation,” he said.

Others also said they were afraid to go home because the walls of their apartments were cracked and they lived on higher floors. Taiwanese Prime Minister Chen Chien-jen visited some earthquake evacuees in a temporary shelter in the morning.

Nearly 1,070 people were injured in the earthquake that struck on Wednesday morning. Of the nine deaths, at least four were killed in Taroko National Park, a tourist attraction in Hualien County known for its ravines and cliffs, about 150 kilometers (90 miles) from the island’s capital Taipei. One person was found dead in a damaged building and another was found in the Ho Ren Quarry.

In this photo released by the Hualien Fire Department, firefighters and quarry workers evacuate a body from the Ho Ren Quarry a day after a powerful earthquake in Hualien County, eastern Taiwan, on April 4, 2024.
In this photo released by the Hualien Fire Department, firefighters and quarry workers evacuate a body from the Ho Ren Quarry a day after a powerful earthquake in Hualien County, eastern Taiwan, on April 4, 2024.

Hualien Fire Department via Associated Press

About 690 people were still missing or stranded as of Thursday, including more than 600 who were stranded at a hotel called Silks Place Taroko, the National Fire Agency said. Authorities said workers and guests were safe and had food and water, and that work to repair roads leading to the hotel was nearly complete.

Others reportedly stranded, including 20 tourists and six university students, were also safe, they said.

Authorities also said about 60 workers, who were unable to leave a quarry because of blocked and damaged roads, were released. Central News Agency said they all got off the mountain safely around noon. Six workers from another quarry were airlifted out.

About 40 people, mostly hotel workers who were previously reported to be in the national park, were still not in contact with authorities.

Hours after the earthquake, local television showed neighbors and rescue workers lifting residents through windows onto the street from damaged buildings where doors had jammed due to the shaking. It was not clear Thursday whether people were still trapped in buildings.

A banner with the text 'Never give up.  Hualien Come on
A banner with the text ‘Never give up. Hualien Come On” hangs near a partially collapsed building, a day after a powerful earthquake struck Hualien City, eastern Taiwan on April 4, 2024.

Chiang Ying-ying via Associated Press

The earthquake and aftershocks caused landslides and damaged roads, bridges and tunnels. The National Legislature and parts of Taipei’s main airport suffered minor damage.

The earthquake was the strongest to hit Taiwan in 25 years. Local authorities estimated the strength of the initial earthquake at a magnitude of 7.2, while the US Geological Survey estimated it at 7.4.

Huang Shiao-en was in her apartment when the earthquake struck. “First the building swayed back and forth, and then it shook up and down,” Huang said.

The Central Weather Administration recorded more than 300 aftershocks from Wednesday morning through Thursday.

The economic losses caused by the earthquake are still unclear. The self-governing island is the leading manufacturer of the world’s most advanced computer chips and other high-tech items sensitive to seismic events.

Hualien was last hit by a deadly earthquake in 2018, which killed 17 people and destroyed a historic hotel. The worst recent earthquake in Taiwan occurred on September 21, 1999, a magnitude 7.7 earthquake that caused 2,400 deaths, injured about 100,000 and destroyed thousands of buildings.

This story has been corrected to reflect that Huang was in “her” apartment, not “his.”

Leung reported from Hong Kong. Associated Press video journalist Taijing Wu contributed to this report.

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