Taiwan accelerates recovery efforts after worst quake in 25 years

Rescue teams are racing against time looking for missing earthquake victims in Hualien County.
By RFA Staff
2024.04.03
Taiwan accelerates recovery efforts after worst quake in 25 years Firefighters and quarry workers evacuate a body from the Ho Ren Quarry a day after a powerful earthquake struck in Hualien County, eastern Taiwan, Thursday, April 4, 2024.
Hualien Fire Department via AP

Updated April 4, 2024, 05:50 a.m. ET.

Rescue workers are searching for people still missing or trapped in the rubble after the worst earthquake to hit Taiwan in 25 years amid fears that casualties may rise.

A total of 41 people remain unaccounted for inside Taroko National Park, more than 29 hours after the earthquake hit.

Among them 30 hotel employees, six hikers, three visitors and two construction workers, according to Taiwan’s Central Emergency Operation Center.

The number of confirmed fatalities has risen to ten. Taiwanese authorities said that more than 1,000 injured and scores remain trapped in collapsed tunnels, mostly in Hualien County on the east coast, where the 7.4 magnitude earthquake hit on Wednesday morning.

Some 663 people are still stranded but in contact with rescue teams, the center said.

The quake has also severely damaged the infrastructure in the area, with roads blocked with fallen rocks and railway lines to Hualien cut off, just as Taiwanese people began a major public holiday on Thursday.

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Residents of the damaged building stand as a damaged building is being demolished following the earthquake, in Hualien, Taiwan April 4, 2024.  (Reuters/Tyrone Siu)

By mid-day Thursday, the railway line between Yilan and Hualien counties had reopened but many sections of the Central Cross-Island Highway, or Provincial Highway 8, remain closed.

The military was called in to help with recovery efforts. Two C-130 transport aircraft were dispatched to bring rescue teams and equipment to Hualien.

The official Central News Agency (CNA) reported that ships are being mobilized to bring supplies to the county.

Missing hotel workers

Most of the fatalities, caused by falling rocks, happened in Hualien – a picturesque mountainous area popular with hikers and tourists. 

Rugged terrain and damaged roads have made search and rescue operations harder.

Taiwan’s National Fire Agency said by midday Thursday, 64 people trapped in a mine in Hualien after some tunnels collapsed in the earthquake have been rescued.

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Rocks block Provincial Highway No. 8 in Central Taiwan, April 3, 2024.  (Taichung City Fire Bureau)

According to the Hualien County Government, more than 600 people including residents and visitors have been placed in temporary accommodation. Shelters have also been set up in New Taipei City to accommodate earthquake victims.

Aftershocks are still being felt across Taiwan, with the government warning that tremors of up to 7 magnitude may occur in the next three days. 

The Ministry of Economic Affairs reported that almost 400,000 households were experiencing power outages, as well as water stoppages, nationwide. 

Eighty cell phone base stations suffered damage in the earthquake, causing communication disruptions. The National Communications Commission said it would work to repair all the stations by Friday.

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Taiwanese soldiers helping rescue operations in Hualien, April 3, 2024. (Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense)

Leading semiconductor manufacturer TSMC suspended operations on Wednesday and evacuated workers from some plants.

TSMC said late Wednesday that more than 70 percent of its chip manufacturing equipment had resumed production.

Despite its strength, the April 3 earthquake has not caused many fatalities thanks to the fact that the epicenter was far from populous urban areas, according to experts. The public’s preparedness also played a factor, after the highly destructive earthquake in 1999 that killed 2,400 people.

“Taiwan’s earthquake preparedness is among the most advanced in the world,” Stephen Gao, a seismologist and professor at Missouri University of Science and Technology, told AP.

“The island has implemented strict building codes, a world-class seismological network, and widespread public education campaigns on earthquake safety," he said.

Shameless’

Taipei has hit out at China’s acceptance of the world’s sympathy and concerns about the quake.

China's Deputy Permanent Representative to the U.N., Geng Shuang, on Wednesday thanked the international community.

Taiwan foreign ministry on Thursday said in a statement that Taipei "solemnly condemns China's shameless use of the Taiwan earthquake to conduct cognitive operations internationally.”

This shows China has no goodwill towards Taiwan, it added.

Taiwan’s Vice President and President-elect Lai Ching-te on Wednesday went to Hualien to inspect the aftermath of the earthquake. Lai, who is to be sworn in next month, said he was “fully committed” to assisting the Hualien county government as it works to shelter those displaced by the quake and rebuild.

“The priority now is to find and rescue those who remain trapped,” he said.

Leaders and senior officials from 47 countries including Japan, the U.S., the U.K. – to name a few – have expressed solidarity and offered assistance to Taipei, according to Taiwan’s Presidential Office.

Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama also expressed his sympathy to the earthquake victims via a post on Facebook.

Zhu Fenglian, head of China’s Taiwan Affairs Office – the organization in charge of cross-Strait relations – said in a statement that the mainland was “deeply concerned about the earthquake and expressed sincere condolences to Taiwan compatriots affected by the disaster.”

China “is willing to provide disaster relief assistance,” Zhu said.

However, the offer was declined by the Taiwanese authorities. Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council said in a statement that  “we express our gratitude to the Chinese side for their concern” but “there is no need for the Chinese side to assist.”

Taiwan’s former president Ma Ying-jeou is currently in China on a friendly visit that has been criticized by some legislators from the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).

​​Frightened but calm

Taiwanese people have been sharing their own experiences from Wednesday’s earthquake.

A man, who identified himself as Li and lives just 500 meters from central Hualien, told Radio Free Asia’s Mandarin service that his building was seriously damaged and its 200 residents were rescued but now need to be resettled.

"After the earthquake hit, the main door was sealed. I was locked in my room for about half an hour.

“The tremors broke the windows and deformed the building structure, the ceilings collapsed, and the window grills, making it impossible to climb out. I learned that some people couldn't stand on the road and had to hug trees to steady themselves.”

Another man named Lin described the quake as huge.

"The earth was shaking up and down, left and right for nearly a minute.”

But he kept his cool, saying: “I am so experienced. I am really used to it in Taiwan."

Lan, a woman who lives in Taipei, told RFA:I was about to go to work at the time, and I was relatively calm.”

“I think Taiwanese people are actually quite well trained in this regard, we know roughly what to do and just follow the instructions.”

Some people said that they actually learned about the earthquake from mainland Chinese sources. China’s Sina News issued an alert at 8:01 a.m. on Wednesday saying “The China Seismological Network detected an earthquake of 7.4 magnitude near Taiwan, China."

But there was also disinformation, according to a woman named Li from Taipei: “The first time I saw it, the news was from mainland China saying that an earthquake of magnitude 8.4 was detected in Taiwan.”

“They also talked about suspension of work [in Taiwan]. Fake news was all over the place."

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A tourist seen in a video clip swimming when the earthquake struck on April 3, 2024. (Screenshot from the video clip)

A video clip has surfaced showing a man, likely a hotel guest, swimming in a hotel rooftop pool in Taipei when the earthquake struck.

In the amateur clip, posted on the BBC, the pool was seen shaking violently, making water splash from side to side, but the man looked surprisingly calm and remained in the pool.

After the video was circulated widely, the Regent Taipei stepped up saying it was the hotel’s pool which is now closed and all hotel guests, including the man, are safe.

Edited by Mike Firn and Elaine Chan.

Updates throughout with new information.

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