Frantic search for survivors in collapsed building

A rescue worker carrying a man from a collapsed building after a 6.4-magnitude quake struck Tainan City yesterday. By late yesterday, over 200 others had been rescued from the building.
A rescue worker carrying a man from a collapsed building after a 6.4-magnitude quake struck Tainan City yesterday. By late yesterday, over 200 others had been rescued from the building.PHOTO: REUTERS

TAINAN (Taiwan) • Hundreds of rescuers frantically searched a collapsed apartment building in the southern Taiwan city of Tainan for survivors of yesterday's earthquake.

Officials said more than a dozen buildings totally or partially collapsed because of the quake, which killed at least 14 people.

Rescue efforts were centred on the 16-storey Wei-guan Golden Dragon Building apartment complex which toppled onto an adjacent road at around 4am as most people slept. Most of the dead were pulled from the ruins of the building.

Rescuers used dogs and acoustic equipment to pick up signs of life in the rubble. They used ladders and cranes to rescue survivors and, by late yesterday, more than 200 had been plucked from the building.

Some people were still missing in the ruins as night fell, government officials said.

SURVIVORS' TALES

The smell of gas was thick in the air and I was worried that I would be killed by an explosion if not crushed to death in the collapsed building... I was in central Taiwan when that area was hit on Sept 21, 1999 by the biggest quake in the country in 100 years... I moved to Tainan after I got married and now I have encountered another major earthquake.

A WOMAN, SURNAMED CHIEN, who survived the deadly 1999 earthquake, experienced another harrowing ordeal yesterday when the building in which she was living collapsed in the earthquake.

She asked me to go back and rescue her husband and child, but I was afraid of a gas explosion so I didn't go in. At the time there were more people calling for help, but my ladder wasn't long enough so there was no way to save them.

A 71-YEAR-OLD MAN, WHO GAVE HIS NAME AS CHANG, said he fetched some tools and a ladder and prised some window bars open to rescue a woman crying for help.

I thought someone had grabbed me by the shoulders and was shaking me violently as I slept. After five seconds, I realised it was a giant earthquake.

MS JOHANNA MA, a Hong Kong resident who was visiting her in-laws with her husband at the time the quake hit, recounting the details of her experience to the South China Morning Post.

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The authorities said there were 96 apartment units and 256 people living in the collapsed building.

But Interior Minister Chen Wei-zen said he feared more people might have been in the apartment block than usual as families gathered to celebrate Chinese New Year.

At the site, in the Yongkang district, a woman stood crying. While she and her son had been able to escape, her daughter remained inside the building, Apple Daily newspaper reported.

Television images showed rescue workers helping survivors out of the building, some able to walk, others brought out on stretchers.

Dozens were injured and taken to hospital.

Residents spoke about how they escaped using tools and ladders. "I used a hammer to break the door of my home which was twisted and locked, and managed to climb out," one woman told local television.

A man tied clothes together to make a rope and lowered himself from the ninth storey to the sixth storey, Apple Daily reported.

A 35-year-old woman described how she and her two children were pulled from the rubble.

"Rescue workers broke through (the building) layer by layer.

"And they asked us to climb out but I said my children are too small to climb.

"So they dug a bigger hole. Then one rescue worker climbed in and took the children out. Then I slowly climbed out myself," she said, according to the BBC.

Fire officials in Tainan told Apple Daily that a woman with the surname Zheng, who lived on the 12th storey, called an emergency line several times late Saturday morning, saying she was trapped under a wall with her sister and parents.

Officials tried to calm the woman down, telling her to listen for the sound of rescuers.

"Just be brave and persevere," a fire official said, according to the report.

A survivor who had just been rescued when a Xinhua reporter arrived at the scene was conscious on a stretcher.

Another resident of the building, who gave his surname as Pan, told Xinhua: "It was horrible! No way to celebrate our new year."

A woman surnamed Cheng said her brother, sister-in-law and their two daughters were still trapped.

Hopes of finding more survivors were lifted when an 18-year-old man was found alive and conscious shortly after dark, and rescuers were working to free him.

A 30-year-old woman, a nine-year-old girl and a toddler were also pulled out alive, Taiwan television said.

REUTERS, NEW YORK TIMES, XINHUA, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on February 07, 2016, with the headline 'Frantic search for survivors in collapsed building'. Print Edition | Subscribe