Taiwan earthquake: Last-minute change of hotel ends in tragedy for mainland family of five

A general view of a damaged building in Hualien, eastern Taiwan on Feb 9, 2018. The death toll from the deadly earthquake had risen to 17.
A general view of a damaged building in Hualien, eastern Taiwan on Feb 9, 2018. The death toll from the deadly earthquake had risen to 17.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

TAIPEI - A Chinese family of five who were killed in last Tuesday's (Feb 6) earthquake in Hualien had changed their travel plans at the last minute and checked into the ill-fated Beauty Inn Hotel which was pancaked after the magnitude-6.4 tremor.

A day before quake, they had been involved in a car accident on the highway connecting Pingtung and Taitung.

No one was hurt in the accident, but it disrupted their travel schedule. The family's free-and easy itinerary showed that they had visited such tourist spots as Sanxiantai and Baxian Caves.

Taiwanese rescuers recovered the bodies of two family members on Sunday (Feb 11) after searching for more than 100 hours. The other three bodies were found on Saturday.

The family's trip to Taiwan encountered its first problem when they left Kenting in southern Taiwan to head to the scenic coastal city of Hualien on Feb 5, according to a Pingtung County police station.

According to Taiwan's Central News Agency, the van rented by the family ran into a truck at about noon on the South-Link Highway, police said.

No one was injured in the accident, and the family continued on their journey to Hualien in a new van with a different driver from the car rental company.

The family from Beijing had originally intended to check into a bed and breakfast in Hualien, but the family changed their plan and checked into the Beauty Inn instead because it was closer to the train station.

The family members are grandparents Ding Wenchang, 76, He Fenghua,75, son-in-law Yang Jie, 39, daughter Ding Shouhui, 40 and 12-year-old grandson Yang Haoran, reported local media.

The death toll from last Tuesday's quake, which struck the coastal city of Hualien at 11.50pm on Tuesday, had risen to 17.

Most of the casualties were staying at the partially-collapsed Yun Men Tsui Ti commercial and residential complex in downtown Hualien.

The building houses the Beauty Inn Hotel on its first three floors. The family of five mainland tourists had checked into Room 201 on the second floor.

Rescuers said the search was extremely difficult because the 12-storey building has tilted at a perilous angle after the earthquake hit, with the first four floors crushed like pancakes.

"The first four flours have become something like a multi-layer sandwich, and have caved into the ground. The roofs, floors and walls are squeezed together. And there is very limited space for us to operate inside," one rescuer surnamed Huang was quoted as saying by Xinhua news agency.

"Besides, we must be very careful to avoid causing further collapse of the building by using large machines. So it usually takes two or three hours to drill through one wall," Huang said. They managed to reach the room where the family was trapped by punching through the fourth and third floors on Saturday.

The 17 victims of the earthquake include nine from Chinese mainland, five from Taiwan, one from the Philippines and two from Canada. A total of 285 people were also injured.