Asia Pacific

Rescuers hunt for missing after quake rocks Taiwan

Disaster-hit city popular with Japanese tourists

AP, Kyodo

Rescuers combed through the rubble of collapsed buildings Wednesday, some using their hands as they searched for the missing after a strong earthquake killed at least four near the popular Taiwanese tourist city of Hualien overnight.

The magnitude 6.4 quake, which hit near the coastal city just before midnight Tuesday, also injured 243 people, officials said. The latest figures from government data indicated 85 people were missing, but Taiwan’s official Central News Agency said more than 140 were unaccounted for.

Many of those were believed to be still trapped inside buildings, some of which were tilting precariously, after the quake hit about 22 km (14 miles) northeast of Hualien on Taiwan’s eastern coast.

Two people were trapped inside a badly damaged hotel. The injured included mainland Chinese, Czech, Japanese, Singaporean and South Korean nationals.

A video posted online by the Taiwanese newspaper Apple Daily showed a woman who appeared to be a tour guide shouting in Japanese to evacuate and a group of Japanese tourists walking with their luggage.

The same news source reported that around 30 Japanese tourists were confirmed safe after the quake.

Go Mizofuchi, 48, a member of the Japanese Resident Association of Hualien, said he was at his house when the earthquake hit after finishing his work at a restaurant he runs. He couldn’t move for about 20 seconds because of the strong vertical shaking.

“There is a person trapped inside an elevator in a building nearby, and the place I had just stopped by for lunch (a day before) collapsed in the earthquake,” Mizofuchi told Kyodo News over the phone, as a loud siren could be heard in the background.

According to Mizofuchi, there are about 50 Japanese residents living in Hualien.

Aftershocks with a magnitude of at least 5.0 could rock the island in the next two weeks, the government said. Smaller tremors rattled nervous residents throughout the day.

Residents waited and watched anxiously as emergency workers dressed in fluorescent orange and red suits and wearing helmets searched for residents trapped in apartment blocks.

Hualien is home to about 100,000 people. Its streets were buckled by the force of the quake, with around 40,000 homes left without water and around 1,900 without power.

Emergency workers surrounded a damaged residential building in the area. Windows had collapsed and the building was wedged into the ground at a 40-degree angle.

Rescuers worked their way around and through the building while residents looked on from behind cordoned-off roads. Others spoke of the panic when the quake struck.

“We were still open when it happened,” said Lin Ching-wen, who operates a restaurant near a damaged military hospital.

“I grabbed my wife and children and we ran out and tried to rescue people,” he said.

Video showed large cracks in the road, while police and emergency services tried to help anxious people roaming the streets. A car sat submerged in rubble as rescue workers combed through the ruins of a nearby building.

President Tsai Ing-wen went to the scene of the quake early Wednesday to help direct rescue operations.

“The president has asked the cabinet and related ministries to immediately launch the ‘disaster mechanism’ and to work at the fastest rate on disaster relief work,” Tsai’s office said in a statement.

Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co, the world’s largest contract chipmaker and major Apple supplier, said initial assessments indicated no impact from the earthquake.

Taiwan, a self-ruled island that China considers part of its territory, lies near the junction of two tectonic plates and is prone to earthquakes. An earthquake with a magnitude of 6.1 struck nearby on Sunday.

More than 100 people were killed in a quake in southern Taiwan in 2016, and some Taiwanese remain scarred by a 7.6 magnitude quake that was felt across the island and killed more than 2,000 people in 1999.