Dozens rescued after major Taiwan quake but more than 600 still cut off

By Helen Regan, Nectar Gan and Gladys Tsai, CNN

CNN  — 

Rescue teams Thursday were trying to reach more than 600 people in eastern Taiwan following the strongest earthquake to hit the island in decades, as the number of people injured passed 1,000.

Aftershocks continued to rattle the island a day after the 7.4 magnitude quake struck just south of Hualien County, the worst-affected region, killing at least nine people, buckling buildings and triggering landslides.

Taiwanese officials warned aftershocks as high as magnitude 7 could continue until the end of the week.

Hualien resident Hong Changyi told CNN that his liquor store was in one of the buildings felled by the quake.

“All my goods, including all my supplies on the bottom floor were destroyed,” he said. “My mind has gone blank, seeing that all of my life’s work has vanished.”

“The shops that have been operating for over a decade are gone in one morning, it’s painful to see,” he added. “But people are safe, so that’s fortunate.”

Drone footage shows workers at the Zhonghe quarry in Hualien before their rescue on April 4, 2024.
Workers demolish a damaged building following the earthquake, in Hualien, Taiwan April 4, 2024.

For such a large quake, the death toll remains relatively low and damage appears limited. As well as nine people dead, 1,067 were injured and 42 are missing. There are 663 people stranded but in contact with rescue teams, according to Taiwan’s National Fire Agency.

While dozens of people were rescued overnight, authorities said efforts are focused on freeing people stranded in a quarry in Hualien, as well as reaching those cut off in surrounding mountain gorges, a tourist destination popular with hikers.

By midday Thursday, all 64 people stranded at the Heping quarry had been safely evacuated, the fire agency said. Video showed rocks and debris across a trail leading to the site.

One person was killed by rockfall in a second quarry, though six other workers were rescued, with dramatic video from the fire agency showing a helicopter airlifting them from a narrow outcrop of rock high up in the mountains.

“There were too many rocks, like bullets falling from above. We didn’t know where to run. We were all scared,” a worker who was rescued from Zhonghe open-air mine told CNN affiliate SET News.

A rescue worker stands near the cordoned off site in the aftermath of an earthquake in Hualien, eastern Taiwan on Wednesday, April 3, 2024.

Drone footage from CNN affiliate CTS showed workers at the damaged quarry perched on the edge of a steep cliff high above the gorge.

Among those trapped were 50 employees of the Silks Place Hotel Taroko, who had been traveling to work in minibuses when the quake hit. After being unreachable for most of Wednesday, three workers managed to hike to the hotel and reported that the rest were safe, according to Central News Agency.

Video from the fire agency Thursday showed some of the trapped hotel staff in a road tunnel, with visible damage to their van. “They’ve been found,” a person can be heard saying. Hualien fire service said rescuers were waiting for roads to be cleared to enter the tunnel, where 20 more tourists were also stranded, according to CNA.

The full extent of the earthquake damage is still being assessed, with road and some rail closures curtailing access to the quake’s epicenter in Hualien County.

But videos and images showed several collapsed buildings in Hualien, and sections of the Suhua highway — a narrow and windy cliff road that connects Hualien with the north of Taiwan — completely crumbled away or blocked by large boulders and rockfall.

Some residents in Hualien spent the night outside as the threat of more damage from aftershocks continued. Reuters reported that people slept in tents in a sports ground that had been converted into a temporary shelter.

Earthquake affected people enter a tent at a temporary reception center at a local school in Hualien on April 3, 2024.

“The aftershocks were terrifying. It’s non-stop. I do not dare to sleep in the house,” a 52-year-old Hualien resident, surnamed Yu, told Reuters.

Details have been released about those who died in the quake, with most killed by fallen rocks, including hikers, road workers, and those at scenic attractions in mountainous areas, Central News Agency reported on Thursday.

CNN affiliate SET reported that one woman was killed in the partially collapsed Uranus building in Hualien after she initially escaped but went back to rescue her pet cat.

As well as the six workers from Zhonghe quarry, those rescued include 11 tourists — including three foreign nationals — at Swallow Grotto at the Taroko Gorge National Park and 75 people stranded in various tunnels in Hualien County, according to Hualien Fire Bureau and Central News Agency.

Wednesday’s quake is the strongest to hit Taiwan since 1999, according to the Central Weather Administration. That year, a 7.7 magnitude quake hit south of Taipei, killing 2,400 people and injuring 10,000 others.

But the damage and limited number of deaths from Wednesday’s quake is far lower. Everyday life for those in the capital Taipei had generally returned to normal on Thursday but residents closer to the epicenter face a lengthy clean up.

Hualien resident Deng Huimei, 63, told CNN his house “was a mess” following the quake and though it was still standing, huge cracks had appeared along the side of the staircase and “chunks of wall that had fallen off were all over the ground.”

Deng said he has lived through multiple earthquakes and before fleeing his house, grabbed a bicycle helmet and sturdy shoes to protect himself from broken glass and debris.

“I took my safety helmet, changed my shoes, and I wanted to see if there was anyone outside who needed help,” he said.

Most of Taiwan’s rail services have resumed on all lines and teams are working to clear debris in Hualien.

Mayor of Hualien City Wei Jia-Yan told CNN that the damage in the city is mainly confined to buildings that have partially collapsed and that structural engineers are assessing how hazardous they are. Some, he said, “can only be demolished and rebuilt.”

Lin Chih-cheng, from Taiwan’s Professional Civil Engineers Association in Hualien, said Thursday that so far 100 buildings have been assessed as dangerous and that demolition work had already started on about a dozen unsafe buildings.

Taiwan, a self-ruled island east of mainland China, is home to about 23 million people, most of whom live in the industrialized cities of its west coast, including the capital.

Hualien County, parts of which are mountainous and remote, is home to about 300,000 people on the island’s sparsely populated east coast. A magnitude 6.2 quake hit near the area in 2018, killing at least 17 people and injuring more than 300 others.

CNN’s Wayne Chang and Shawn Deng contributed reporting.

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