Nine people were reported dead and dozens missing as rescuers continued the search for survivors on Thursday following a 6.4-magnitude earthquake that rocked Taiwan late on Tuesday.
More than 260 people were injured in the tremor, which struck Hualien county on the island’s east coast, causing buildings to collapse and lean over steeply. Many were trapped as they slept.
The shallowness of the quake meant that the effects on the surrounding area had an intensity level of 7, local media reported.
A tourist from Hong Kong surnamed Chan said she was in her guesthouse when the quake struck, and was flung to the floor. Many people had spent the night outside for fear of further building collapses before going to emergency relief centers in the quake-hit zone.
“Last night was pretty scary; everyone went out to the convenience store or the big intersections to avoid any hard objects falling on them,” Chan said. “We didn’t sleep the entire night, and the water and electricity was cut off at 6 a.m., so we came here to the emergency assistance center.”
Workers placed steel beams to stabilize the Yunmen Tsuiti building, one of at least four large buildings in left leaning over at sharp angles, their lowest floors crushed, media reports said on Wednesday.
Continual aftershocks measuring up to 5.7 hampered rescue workers as they searched for survivors in the Beauty Inn Hotel and two multistory buildings in the worst-hit area.
Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen visited some of those injured in the quake at Taiwan’s Hualien Tzu Chi Hospital, including visitors from mainland China,
“He is from mainland China, with lacerations to the foot,” a doctor at the hospital told the president on live television. “He has just come out of surgery.”
Tsai asks the man: “Are you here on vacation? Are you from Beijing?” before adding: “It looks as if you will be here for a while.”
On Thursday, Tsai visited the quake-hit area once more as rescue work continued, pledging government help to rebuild the area.
“We will give you a new home,” she said in response to a local resident’s question. “We will work together with the county government so that all of those affected will be able to return to their homes.”
Rocky relations with China
The quake comes as the Chinese Communist Party is currently at loggerheads with the democratic island over Taiwan’s cancellation of permissions for extra direct flights by mainland Chinese airlines ahead of Chinese New Year on Feb. 16.
Taiwan’s civil aviation authority said last month it had put its foot down after mainland airlines persisted in flying routes it had not approved, endangering air traffic safety, affecting thousands of passengers whose paid-for flights were suddenly canceled.
“Two visitors from mainland China sustained light and serious injuries respectively, and their relatives are on their way,” Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) official Chang Hsiao-yueh told reporters.
“We are urgently expedited their arrival in Taiwan, and the government has expressed its concern for the injuries suffered by the visitors,” Chang said. “We have send two members of staff from the MAC to Hualien to offer assistance.”
Cross-straits relations between Beijing and Taiwan have soured since President Tsai led her Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), to election victory in 2016, routing the Kuomintang (KMT) nationalist party that favors closer ties with Beijing.
Last September, China jailed Taiwan NGO worker Lee Ming-cheh on charges of "incitement to subvert state power,” the first overseas national to be held under new laws governing NGO activity in China.
China's KMT nationalist government, then known as the Republic of China under Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, relocated to Taiwan in 1949 after losing a civil war to Mao Zedong's communists on the mainland.
The island began a transition to democracy following the death of Chiang's son, President Chiang Ching-kuo, in January 1988, starting with direct elections to the legislature in the early 1990s and culminating in the first direct election of President Lee Teng-hui in 1996.
But while the Chinese Communist Party has never ruled the island, Beijing regards it as part of Chinese territory and has threatened to invade if Taiwan seeks formal independence.
Recent opinion polls indicate that there is broad political support for de facto self-rule in Taiwan, where the majority of voters identify as Taiwanese rather than Chinese, and Tsai was voted in promising to maintain that status quo without making further concessions to Beijing.
Reported by Chung Kuang-cheng for RFA’s Cantonese Service, and by Hwang Chun-mei for the Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.