Taiwan 7.4 magnitude earthquake: Rescue crews search desperately for missing family feared trapped beneath rubble


TAIWAN — Rescue teams are searching for a family of five feared trapped in a rockslide following Taiwan’s biggest earthquake in 25 years, which has left at least 12 dead.

Two bodies have been found in the Taroko National Park, a tourist attraction famous for its rugged, mountainous terrain in Hualien County about 150 kilometers (90 miles) from Taipei. At least four other victims were found in the park. Authorities have yet to verify the identities of the latest victims.

The family, surnamed You, had gone on a hike after visiting ancestral sites for the traditional grave-sweeping observances.

Wednesday’s 7.4-magnitude quake sent boulders and mud tumbling down mountainsides, blocking roads and smashing cars, and injured more than 1,000 people.

In the county seat of Hualien, crews were working to demolish the five-story Tien Wang Hsing building, which was left leaning at a severe angle, one of scores of buildings damaged around the island. Residents wearing motorcycle and construction helmets recovered legal documents and other documents before large cement-penetrating drills and backhoes began bringing down the building.

A high school teacher was killed in the building when she returned to her apartment to find her cat just as an aftershock struck, bringing down more debris.

Others were still stuck in areas cut off by road blockages, including one Canadian and two persons with joint Australian and Singapore citizenship, according to emergency services. Authorities were using cell phone signals to ascertain their positions.

Hualien will face a major challenge to rebuild and bring back tourism, said county head Hsu Chen-Wei.

“After such a strong quake, rebuilding and reconstruction will be an extremely heavy burden, especially for those who still need to make their monthly mortgage payments. That’s why people’s paths to rebuilding their lives will rely on help from charitable donations,” Hsu told reporters.

The small number of casualties and rapid response has been attributed to tightened construction safety standards and the replacement of older buildings with modern structures built to resist earthquakes. Emergency services have upgraded their equipment and training, assisted by civic groups such as the Red Cross and the Buddhist Tzu Chi charitable foundation that have provided meals and set up shelters in school gymnasiums and other public spaces for those left homeless.

The powerful quake struck during the morning rush hour, 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.

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.

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