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Quake devastates Taiwan tourist spot

China Daily | Updated: 2018-02-08 06:56

A residential building leans on its collapsed first floor after a powerful earthquake early on Wednesday in Hualien, Taiwan. Rescue crews continue to try to free people from damaged buildings. At least seven people were killed and hundreds injured. [Photo/AP]

HUALIEN, Taiwan-Rescue workers pulled survivors and bodies from buildings tilting precariously in the Taiwan county of Hualien on Wednesday after an overnight earthquake killed at least seven, injured more than 200 and left dozens missing.

Emergency responders were focusing on a 12-story apartment block and a nearby hotel, both of which were leaning dangerously after their lower floors pancaked when the 6.5 magnitude quake hit the popular tourist county late on Tuesday.

The local fire agency said at least seven people had been killed and around 250 were injured across the county. The toll could rise as rescuers continue their work.

Zhang Zhijun, head of the Taiwan Affairs Office of the State Council, said the mainland was willing to send rescue teams to help.

Zhang received details about the casualties, property losses and rescue work through a phone call with Fu Kun-chi, head of Hualien county. He expressed deep condolences for all the victims and sincere compassion for Taiwan residents who suffered, saying that people from the mainland could feel what their Taiwan compatriots felt.

"We hope local people can overcome the difficulty and rebuild their homes at an early date," Zhang said.

Chen Deming, president of the Beijing-based Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits, said the mainland was willing to assist in disaster relief, including sending rescue teams to the island.

The All-China Federation of Taiwan Compatriots also expressed sympathy to residents of the quake-hit areas in a letter, saying Taiwan people living on the mainland are ready to offer as much help as they can.

An Fengshan, the spokesman for the Taiwan Affairs Office of the State Council, said the mainland is learning about the conditions of mainland tourists, students and spouses living in disaster-hit areas.

Six tourists from the mainland had been sent to a hospital in Hualien. One of the injured, a woman from Fujian province, was in critical condition.

According to the China Earthquake Networks Center, the earthquake jolted waters near Hualien about 11:50 pm on Tuesday. The epicenter was monitored just off the island's east coast, at 24.13 degrees north latitude and 121.71 degrees east longitude, with a depth of 11 kilometers, according to CENC.

The earthquake-the most severe to hit Hualien in five decades-was followed by a series of aftershocks, including several measuring over magnitude 5.

Hualien has a population of about 100,000.

The local fire agency said 88 people were unaccounted for as of 2 pm but it was not immediately clear how many of those were trapped inside buildings.

In Hualien, four buildings had partially collapsed or tilted. The 12-story Yun Men Tusi Ti residential building, which also housed a restaurant, shops and a hostel, is a focus of rescue efforts.

A man who lives nearby described witnessing the building partially collapsing.

"I saw the first floor sink into the ground. Then it sank and tilted further, and the fourth floor became the first floor," said Lu Chih-son, 35, who saw 20 people rescued from the building.

"My family were unhurt, but a neighbor was injured and is bleeding. We dare not go back home now. There are many aftershocks, and we are worried the house is damaged," he said.

Chen Chih-wei, 80, said he was sleeping in his apartment on the top floor of the building when the quake struck.

"My bed turned completely vertical. I was sleeping and suddenly I was standing," he said, adding that he managed to crawl his way to a balcony to wait for rescue.

The highway from Suao to Hualien was temporarily closed.

The earthquake initially knocked out power to about 1,900 households, but most had been restored by Wednesday night. Some 35,000 households lost their water supply, the local fire agency said.

The quake came nearly two years to the day after a magnitude 6.7 quake struck Kaohsiung, killing 116 people. Since Feb 4, more than 100 quakes have jolted the eastern region.

Xinhua-AFP

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