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Rescuers in Taiwan search for those missing or stranded after major earthquake kills 10

Rescuers are searching for missing people and working to reach hundreds who became stranded when Taiwan’s strongest earthquake in 25 years sent boulders and mud tumbling down mountainsides, blocking roads

Published: April 4, 2024, 7:57am
3 Photos
A firefighter regroup at the entrance of Taroko National Park in Hualien County, eastern Taiwan, Thursday, April 4, 2024. The strongest earthquake in a quarter-century has rocked Taiwan during the morning rush hour.
A firefighter regroup at the entrance of Taroko National Park in Hualien County, eastern Taiwan, Thursday, April 4, 2024. The strongest earthquake in a quarter-century has rocked Taiwan during the morning rush hour. (AP Photo/Chiang Ying-ying) Photo Gallery

HUALIEN, Taiwan (AP) — Rescuers searched Thursday for missing people and worked to reach hundreds stranded when Taiwan’s strongest earthquake in 25 years sent boulders and mud tumbling down mountainsides, blocking roads. Ten people died and more than 1,000 were injured.

The powerful quake struck during the morning rush hour a day earlier, sending schoolchildren rushing outdoors and families fleeing their apartments through the windows. The ground floors of some buildings collapsed, leaving them leaning at precarious angles. Though the island is regularly rattled by earthquakes and generally well prepared, authorities did not send out the usual alerts because they were expecting a smaller temblor.

Some 200 residents of Hualien County near the epicenter were staying in temporary shelters, and the main road linking the county to the capital, Taipei, was still closed Thursday afternoon, but much of Taiwan’s day-to-day life returned to normal. Some local rail service to Hualien resumed, and Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co., one of the world’s most important manufacturers of computer chips, restarted most operations, the Central News Agency reported.

Nearly 1,100 people were injured in the quake. Of the 10 dead, at least four were killed inside Taroko National Park, a tourist attraction famous for canyons and cliffs in mountainous Hualien about 150 kilometers (90 miles) from Taipei. One person was found dead in a damaged building and another was found in the Ho Ren Quarry. Rescuers also carried out the body of a man, who had severe wounds on his head, from a hiking trail.

Hundreds of people were stranded when rocks and mud blocked the roads leading to their hotel, campground or work site — though most were safe while they awaited rescue. It wasn’t clear Thursday if any people were still trapped in buildings.

Liu Zhong-da, a 58-year-old construction worker, and his colleague were on their way to work on a road in the national park and were inside a tunnel when the quake hit. A boulder blocked their exit and they were trapped along with some other people.

“We almost got covered up,” Liu said. “No communication could be made (to the outside world).” Liu and his colleague were rescued Thursday afternoon and received a quick medical checkup outside the park.

About 60 workers who had been unable to leave a quarry because of damaged roads were also freed, authorities said. Six workers from another quarry were airlifted out.

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Some 700 people remain cut off, the vast majority of them employees and guests at a hotel in the national park. Authorities said they were safe and had food and water, and that work to repair the roads to the hotel was nearly finished. Another 10 workers from the same hotel were stranded elsewhere in the park, after most of the others in the group were rescued or managed to walk out.

Authorities said they were unable to contact about 15 people, and their condition was not known. Numbers have fluctuated frequently as authorities have learned of more people in trouble and rescued others.

In the city of Hualien on Thursday, workers used an excavator to stabilize the base of a damaged building, as chickens pecked among potted plants on the flat roof slanting at a severe angle.

Mayor Hsu Chen-wei previously said 48 residential buildings were damaged in the quake. Hendri Sutrisno, a 30-year-old professor at Hualien Dong Hwa University, spent Wednesday night in a tent inside a shelter with his wife and baby, fearing aftershocks.

“We ran out of the apartment and waited for four to five hours before we went up again to grab some important stuff such as our wallet. And then we’re staying here ever since to assess the situation,” he said.

Others also said they didn’t dare to go home because the walls of their apartments were cracked or they lived on higher floors. Taiwanese Premier Chen Chien-jen visited some earthquake evacuees in the morning at a temporary shelter.

The earthquake was the strongest to hit Taiwan in 25 years, measured at magnitude 7.4 by the U.S. Geological Survey.

Huang Shiao-en was in her apartment when the quake struck. “At first the building was swinging side to side, and then it shook up and down,” she said.

The Central Weather Administration recorded more than 400 aftershocks from Wednesday morning into Thursday night. The national legislature and sections of Taipei’s main airport suffered minor damage.

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