Dozens feared trapped in Taiwan after earthquake topples buildings

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TAIWAN — Dozens of people are missing following a deadly earthquake in Taiwan, with more than 40 feared trapped in a multi-story building tilting perilously in the northeastern city of Hualien.

The magnitude-6.4 quake struck 22 kilometers (13 miles) north of the city late Tuesday, killing at least seven people and injuring 258 people. It also damaged bridges and buckled roads in the east of the island.

Video from the site of the quake showed smoke still rising from the collapsed buildings on Wednesday morning, as firefighters patrolled streets covered in rubble.

Emergency workers used enormous beams, raised with a crane, to prop up the tilting Yun Men Tsui Ti building, a large residential and commercial complex, which leaned ominously over the street below.

Of 76 people still missing in the city, 16 are believed to be inside a B&B called the Beauty Inn in the Yun Men Tsui Ti building, according to the Tourism Bureau. A further 39 residents registered in the building have still not been reached although it’s unclear if they were in the building when the quake struck.

It’s one of four buildings in the city which were either tilting or had collapsed, authorities said.

At the flattened Marshal Hotel, rescuers reached two hotel workers who had been trapped near the main counter in the lobby, Taiwan’s official news agency, CNA, reported Wednesday.

One appeared dazed as he was escorted out by rescue workers. The other didn’t survive the ordeal.

Dozens of aftershocks continued to shake the city Wednesday, with 600 military personnel and more than 750 firefighters combing through the rubble and helping with rescue efforts, according to Taiwan’s central emergency center.

Nine Japanese nationals were injured and taken to hospital, authorities said, but they have all been released. In total, 31 foreigners were affected, including 14 South Koreans, nine Japanese, two Czechs, two Singaporeans, and one Filipino, CNA reported.

Hualien is located close to Taiwan’s famous Taroko Gorge, a popular tourist destination.

Photos on state media showed the narrow highway in and out of the gorge on Wednesday morning them covered in rocks, rubble and debris from the earthquake.

Hundreds of local Hualien residents whose homes were destroyed in the earthquake sheltered at the Hualien Stadium, provided with emergency supplies by relief organizations.

Dozens trapped

The quake struck late Tuesday in the East China Sea, north of Hualien, an eastern county that’s home to more than 350,000 people.

The temblor was felt as far north as the island’s capital Taipei, about 120 kilometers (74 miles) to the north, according to reports sent to the US Geological Survey.

At least 15 aftershocks, measuring as much as 4.8 magnitude, were still shaking the area on Wednesday morning, according to Taiwan’s Central Weather Bureau.

Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen visited the site of the earthquake on Wednesday, according to photos released by her press office. Tsai thanked the island’s first responders in a message on her official Twitter account.

Taiwan is situated on the Pacific Ring of Fire, which runs around the edge of the Pacific Ocean and is renowned for causing massive seismic and volcanic activity from Indonesia to Chile.

The island is regularly rocked by earthquakes. A magnitude-6.4 quake hit the island in 2016, killing 40 people. The biggest earthquake in recent memory took place 1999 when a 7.3 temblor killed 2,400 people.

According to Taiwan’s emergency operations center, 1,900 households lost power in the wake of the quake, most of which had been restored by Wednesday morning.

However, tens of thousands of residents were still without water, the center said, estimating at least 35,000 still had not had their service restored.

‘Nerves are jangled’

Laura Lo, a worker at the 7-Eleven convenience store across the street from the Marshal Hotel, said the first and second floors of the hotel appeared to be severely damaged.

Her store also suffered broken glass from the quake, she said, and many roads in the area were closed.

An employee at the Park City Hotel down the street told CNN that he felt the quake but there was no damage at his location.

Margaret K. Lewis, a Seton Hall University Law School professor living in Taipei, said she felt prolonged swaying at her modern high-rise apartment building in Beitou District, in the northern part of the city.

“Nothing broken, and two children slept peacefully through the event. We have since felt a few mild aftershocks,” Lewis said in an email. “Nerves are jangled, but otherwise all appears well. I have not been outside to look for damage, but my expectation is that my area is generally fine.”