April 24th, 2024

Rescuers search for people out of contact in Taiwan after strong earthquake

By Johnson Lai And Kanis Leung, The Associated Press on April 3, 2024.

HUALIEN, Taiwan (AP) – Rescuers searched for dozens of people out of contact Thursday a day after Taiwan’s strongest earthquake in a quarter century damaged buildings, caused multiple rockslides and killed nine people.

In the eastern coastal city of Hualien near the epicenter, workers used an excavator to put construction materials around the base of a damaged building to stabilize it and prevent a collapse. Mayor Hsu Chen-wei previously said 48 residential buildings were damaged. Some of the damaged buildings tilted at precarious angles with their ground floors crushed.

More than 1,000 people were injured in the quake that struck Wednesday morning. Of the nine dead, at least four were struck inside Taroko National Park, a tourist attraction famous for its scenes of canyons and cliffs in Hualien County, about 150 kilometers (90 miles) from the island’s capital Taipei.

Nearly 150 people were either still trapped or out of contact Thursday, the National Fire Agency said.

About two dozen tourists and some others were stranded in the park. The health and welfare ministry said 64 others were workers at a rock quarry. Six workers from another quarry were airlifted from the area where access was cut off because roads were damaged by falling rocks.

Several people, including six university students, were also reported to be trapped. Around 50 people, mostly employees at the hotel earlier reported to be in the national park, were out of contact with authorities.

For hours after the quake, TV showed neighbors and rescue workers lifting residents through windows and onto the street from damaged buildings where the shaking had fused shut the doors. It wasn’t clear Thursday morning if any people were trapped in damaged buildings.

The temblor and aftershocks caused many landslides and damaged roads, bridges and tunnels. The national legislature and sections of Taipei’s main airport had minor damage.

Taiwan measured the initial quake’s strength as 7.2 magnitude while the U.S. Geological Survey put it at 7.4. The Central Weather Administration has recorded more than 300 aftershocks from Wednesday morning into Thursday.

Taiwan is regularly jolted by earthquakes and its population is among the best prepared for them. It also had stringent construction requirements to ensure buildings are quake-resistant.

The economic losses caused by the quake are still unclear. The self-ruled island is the leading manufacturer of the world’s most sophisticated computer chips and other high-technology items that are sensitive to seismic events.

Hualien was last struck by a deadly quake in 2018 that killed 17 people and brought down a historic hotel. Taiwan’s worst recent quake on Sept. 21, 1999, a magnitude 7.7 temblor that caused 2,400 deaths, injuring around 100,000 and destroying thousands of buildings.

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

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