HUALIEN (AFP) - At an elementary school turned shelter in Taiwan's Hualien city some survivors of a tower block left teetering by Tuesday's quake were baffled and angry that such a seemingly solid structure had folded with deadly results.
Emergency workers on Thursday (Feb 8) were still pulling bodies from the 12-storey Yun Tsui apartment block, which was left tottering at a fifty-degree angle when its lower floors pancaked during the 6.4-magnitude quake.
At least six of the nine confirmed dead so far perished there.
"It's unbelievable such a big building toppled," 66-year-old Chen Chien-hsiang told AFP as fellow residents huddled under blankets, occasional aftershocks rattling the school and their already frayed nerves.
"We question whether the structural integrity of the building was damaged. Otherwise why else would it fall the way it did?" he fumed.
Like many of those who survived, Chen had to crawl his way out of an apartment suddenly upended by the tremor.
"My TV, a traditional one, was flying like it was in space," he recalled. "All the appliances were really like they're flying." His apartment was on the sixth floor, but he managed to drag himself out of a window which was suddenly perched closer to the ground as a result of the quake.
"The sixth floor is usually quite high up but when I squeezed myself out the road was right there," he said.
Another resident, 70-year-old Chang Te-ching, said many apartment owners feared that the lower floors of the complex containing a hotel and restaurant may have lacked proper reinforcement to support the building's weight.
"Residential shouldn't be combined with commercial. There are laws regulating this but it hasn't been executed well," he said.
"But being angry only causes you more pain." .
OLDER BUILDINGS VULNERABLE
Taiwan sits on the western edge of the tectonically active Ring of Fire and routinely experiences earthquakes. After an especially deadly quake in 1999 killed more than 2,000 people, stricter building codes were brought in.
But many of Taiwan's older buildings remain perilously vulnerable to even moderate strength quakes.
A quake of similar magnitude exactly two years earlier in the city of Tainan toppled an older apartment building and killed 117 people.
Locals said the Yun Tsui apartment block was at least 24 years old.
A 50-year-old woman surnamed Wang said the quake and aftershocks had left her so shaken she didn't dare sleep in her home.
Instead she was bedding down at convenience stores which she felt were safer.
"How would I dare to stay inside (my home)? It's unusual to have such frequent shakes. I have a hunch there is another big one coming," she told AFP.
As rescuers risked their lives to find survivors, pulling two more bodies out on Thursday, many volunteers travelled to the eastern city to help those made homeless.
Lynn Chen, 29, drove her rainbow painted breakfast truck two hours from Yilan to offer free fried noodles and drinks outside the leaning apartment block.
"I think we will stay here until the rescue operation is finished," she said. "My dad lives in Hualien and I have friends here. I want to do what I can in my power to help."