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Scores trapped in tunnels after Taiwan quake

The national disaster agency said 10 people were killed and 1,099 injured in island's biggest earthquake in a quarter century
This handout picture taken and released by Taiwan’s Central Emergency Operations Center on April 5 shows rescuers searching the Taroko National Park after an earthquake in Hualien

This handout picture taken and released by Taiwan’s Central Emergency Operations Center on April 5 shows rescuers searching the Taroko National Park after an earthquake in Hualien. (Photo: AFP)

Published: April 05, 2024 05:09 AM GMT
Updated: April 05, 2024 05:22 AM GMT

Taiwanese rescuers worked on April 4 to reach scores of people trapped in highway tunnels as engineers began a massive clear-up operation a day after the island's biggest earthquake in a quarter of a century.

Ten people were killed and nearly 1,100 injured in the magnitude-7.4 quake on April 3, but strict building regulations and widespread public disaster awareness appear to have staved off a major catastrophe on the island.

Dozens of residents of the worst-hit city, Hualien, spent a night outdoors rather than in apartments still being shaken by aftershocks, and a huge engineering operation was underway to fix damaged roads and prop up tilting buildings.

A dramatic video released by the island's Central Emergency Operation Centre showed a helicopter flying two sorties to pluck up six miners trapped in a gypsum quarry in Hualien county, near the epicenter of the quake.

Rescuers knew the whereabouts of dozens more people trapped in a network of strongly built tunnels in the county, a feature of the roads that cut through the scenic mountains and cliffs leading to Hualien City from the north and west.

Hundreds of others were holding out at a luxury hotel and youth activity center near the Taroko National Park, with roads leading to both blocked by landslides.

"I also hope that we can use today's time to find all people who are stranded and unaccounted for and help them settle down," Premier Chen Chien-jen said after a briefing at an emergency operation center in Hualien.

The island has been shaken by hundreds of strong aftershocks since the first quake, and the government warned people to be wary of landslides or rockfalls if they ventured to the countryside for Qingming, a two-day public holiday that began on April 4.

Families traditionally visit the tombs of their ancestors on the holiday to clean the gravesites and burn offerings.

"Do not go to the mountains unless necessary," warned President Tsai Ing-wen.

The national disaster agency said 10 people had been killed and 1,099 injured in the quake.

'Good to be alive' 

The latest casualty, a 65-year-old man, was found on a hiking trail in Hualien county on April 4 afternoon.

Rescue workers deployed ropes to move the body on the uneven terrain filled with jagged rocks, according to footage released by officials.

Authorities were in contact with over 700 people trapped in tunnels or cut-off areas, but had lost touch with about a dozen -- although they were believed to be safe.

At around 4:00 pm, a highway leading to Taroko National Park was cleared. A small group stranded for nearly 30 hours emerged to be greeted by rescue workers handing them water and ushering some to the first aid tent.

"It's good to be alive!" said David Chen, who works at the luxury Silks Place Taroko hotel located deeper in the mountains.

In Hualien, a glass-fronted building named Uranus -- now tilting at a 45-degree angle after half of its first floor pancaked -- has become something of a symbol of the quake.

Over 100 people chose to sleep in tents at a shelter set up in an elementary school as the aftershocks continued.

"Our worry is when the big aftershocks happen it might be really hard for us to evacuate one more time -- especially with the baby," said Indonesian Hendri Sutrisno, 30, a professor at Donghua University.

He and his wife hid under a table with their infant when the earthquake struck before fleeing their apartment.

"We have all the necessary stuff, blankets, [a] toilet, and a place to rest," he said.

The quake was the most severe since 1999 when Taiwan was hit by a magnitude-7.6 temblor.

It killed 2,400 people, the deadliest natural disaster in the island's history.

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