Tainan, Taiwan – Rescuers using cranes, dogs and electronic devices searched for survivors Tuesday in a high-rise apartment complex in southern Taiwan that was toppled by a powerful earthquake.
The death toll in Saturday’s disaster stood at 40, while 320 people had been rescued, the Tainan city government said on its official website.
More than 100 people are missing and likely buried in debris. The tragedy struck as families gathered to mark the most important holiday in the Chinese calendar — the Lunar New Year.
All but two of the casualties in the quake were recorded in the collapse of Tainan’s Weiguan Golden Dragon 17-story complex.
Although the shallow 6.4-magnitude quake was potentially devastating, few buildings were damaged. This is attributed to strict construction standards on an island that is frequently hit by quakes.
Most of those who survived were rescued in the hours immediately after the quake, in which the building collapsed onto itself before toppling to the side.
Ko Ching-chung said he had propped himself against a wall to avoid falling onto his girlfriend after the quake hit just before 4 a.m. But after 20 hours, he could no longer hold on and collapsed onto her.
“She would have soon not been able to breath. I said to her I had to lay on top of her and she said to me it’s OK,” Ko told reporters at the hospital where he was recovering.
Five survivors were believed to have been pulled out on Sunday, and at least four on Monday. One of them, Tsao Wei-ling, called out “Here I am” as rescuers dug through to find her.
She was found under the body of her husband, who had shielded her from a collapsed beam, the government-run Central News Agency reported. Tsao’s husband and 2-year-son were found dead, and five other members of the family remained unaccounted for, it said.
Teams also rescued a 42-year-old man on Monday, and, later, an 8-year-old girl, who had been trapped for more than 61 hours.
Mayor Lai Ching-te told reporters he briefly exchanged words with the girl, Lin Su-chin.
“She is awake, but looks dehydrated, lost some temperature but she’s awake and her blood pressure is OK,” he said. “I asked her if there’s anything wrong with her body. She shook her head.”
Shortly afterward, rescue workers also pulled out a 28-year-old Vietnamese woman, identified as Chen Mei-jih, who had been trapped on what was the building’s fifth floor.
Family members of the missing flooded into the information center in search of their loved ones or to wait anxiously.
Tensions rose as some relatives, losing patience, demanded to speak to rescue workers directly to get the latest information.
A couple sitting in a small room where officials release information said they had heard no news about their daughter-in-law and two young grandsons.
“Does that mean we are here to wait for bodies?” grandfather Liu Meng-hsun cried out angrily.
Earthquakes rattle Taiwan frequently. Most are minor and cause little or no damage, though a magnitude-7.6 quake in central Taiwan in 1999 killed more than 2,300 people.
The spectacular fall of the high-rise, built in 1989, raised questions about whether its construction had been shoddy. The government says it will investigate whether the developer cut corners.
The extended Lunar New Year holiday officially started Monday, but celebrations were subdued and both President Ma Ying-jeou and President-elect Tsai Ing-wen canceled the traditional handing out of envelopes of cash in their hometowns.