Taiwan earthquake: Tales of miraculous escape amid massive devastation

Rescue services officers searching for survivors in a damaged building in Hualien, Taiwan, on Feb 7, 2018.
Rescue services officers searching for survivors in a damaged building in Hualien, Taiwan, on Feb 7, 2018. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

TAIPEI - A hotel employee was freed from the wreckage of a collapsed hotel - 14 hours after a massive earthquake struck Taiwan's port city of Hualien.

Another hid in the basement, a decision which saved his life as the first three floors of the hotel crumpled like a pack of cards during the intense shaking late Tuesday (Feb 6).

Cheers and applause erupted at the rescue scene when Mr Liang Shu-wei walked out -unaided and seemingly unscathed - from the severely-damaged Marshal Hotel at 3.10pm on Wednesday (Feb 7), according to live-streaming broadcast by ETToday.

He was trapped near the front desk on level one when the magnitude-6.0 quake hit at 11.50 pm on Tuesday (Feb 6), reported Taiwan's Central News Agency.

Photos and video footage showed that the first floor had been flattened by the upper levels of the hotel, one of the worst-hit buildings in Tuesday's quake. This is despite steel reinforcements to parts of the 11-storey building, according to local media.

Hours earlier, another hotel employee Chen Ming-hui also had a miraculous escape.

He was about to knock off when he felt the tremors. He sought refugee in the basement and hid behind a pillar. The helmet he was wearing also helped him escape unhurt. He was pulled out from the wreckage in the wee hours of Wednesday (Feb 7).

Chen, who has been working at the hotel for 16 years, was able to contact rescue personnel with his mobile phone.

"I called my family while waiting to be rescued. I almost wanted to say my last words," he told Taiwanese reporters.

 
 

There were dozens of guests in the four-star hotel when the quake hit close to midnight.

Fortunately, they were staying on the fifth floor and above, and every guest has been accounted for, reported Taiwan News.

Hualien resident Chen Chih-wei only realised an earthquake had struck when his apartment suddenly turned on its side.

The 80-year-old resident was fast asleep when  the quake hit just before midnight on Tuesday.

"Everything fell down. My bed was completely vertical, I was sleeping and suddenly I was standing," he told AFP.

Chen said he managed to make his way to his apartment balcony to await rescue but it was no easy task for an octogenarian who said he was used to quakes on an island that lies on a tectonically active faultline.

"It (the apartment) was completely slanted and there was no way to stand. My floor is very slick so I crawled and slid my way out," he recalled.

Chen lived with his daughter on the top floor of the Yun Men Tsui Ti apartment block where at least four people were killed.

Many Hualien residents, who are used to the frequent temors, said that Tuesday's quake was the strongest they have  experienced in years.

The cold weather and rain on Wednesday hampered rescue work as emergency workers combed through the rubble of collapsed buildings to search for survivors.

More than 80 were believed to be still missing and most were likely to be trapped inside of buildings, some of which were tilting precariously.

Online footage showed neighbours helping to carry children and elderly folks to safety.

 

Rescue efforts were focused early Wednesday on the 17-year-old Yun Men Tsui Ti complex, which also housed a restaurant, shops and a hostel.

The quake left the 12-storey building leaning to one side, its lower floors crushed like pancakes.

Four mobile cranes had been brought in on the back of trucks to help prop up the structure, an AFP reporter on the scene said.

Liu Yan-hu, from the Hualien County Architects Association, told Taiwan's Apple Daily it looked like the building's main structure was intact.

"We were still open when it happened," said Lin Ching-wen, who operates a restaurant near a damaged military hospital.

"I grabbed my wife and children and we ran out and tried to rescue people," he said.