TAIPEI (AFP) - The last two victims of an earthquake that hit the Taiwan tourist hot spot of Hualien three weeks ago have finally been removed from the rubble of a collapsed hotel.
The Chinese couple from Beijing who were on a sightseeing trip had already been named among the 17 dead after a 6.4-magnitude quake toppled buildings in the coastal town.
But their bodies remained in a second-floor hotel in the 12-storey Yun Tsui building, which was left leaning at around a 50-degree angle by the quake, complicating rescue efforts due to fears of an imminent collapse.
Emergency workers had combed through rubble at the foot of the mainly residential block since the quake struck the eastern city on Feb 6, retrieving the last two bodies on Sunday (Feb 25).
Three other members of the couple's family were also killed in the quake. Of the 17 people who died, 14 perished in the Yun Tsui building.
Hualien Mayor Fu Kun-chi had said the last two victims were pinned under heavy pillars that could not be removed without risking a total collapse of the building, and the rescue was called off with the consent of their relatives six days after the quake hit.
Excavators began digging through the building from the top to recover the bodies.
The Hualien county government said the bodies of the Chinese couple had been sent to a local funeral parlour and their relatives had been informed.
Three partially collapsed buildings in Hualien are being demolished, including the local landmark Marshal Hotel, where one employee was killed.
Hualien, on Taiwan's rugged east coast, is one of the most popular tourist destinations on the quake-prone island.
Taiwan's worst quake in recent decades was a 7.6-magnitude tremor in September 1999 that killed around 2,400 people.
The disaster ushered in stricter building codes but many of Taiwan's older buildings remain perilously vulnerable to even moderate quakes.