Rescue teams search mountains for trapped victims

HUALIEN, Taiwan — Rescuers in Taiwan combed mountains for a dozen people still missing and airlifted others to safety on Friday, as the death toll from this week’s earthquake increased to 12.

Two more bodies were found in the mountains of Taiwan’s eastern Hualien county, two days after a 7.4-magnitude quake off the nearby coast that was the island’s biggest tremor in 25 years. The quake damaged roads and sent rocks tumbling down mountains, stranding hundreds of people in Taroko National Park, an area popular with hikers.

Rescue efforts have been complicated by the risk of further landslides and rockfalls, as well as intermittent rain, said Justin Wang, 37, team leader at the Kaoshiung City Fire Department.

Ten people were killed and nearly 1,100 injured in the April 3 magnitude-7.4 quake, but strict building regulations and widespread public disaster awareness appear to have staved off a major catastrophe on the island.
Rescue workers searching the Taroko National Park on Friday.CNA / AFP – Getty Images

Aftershocks can also still be felt every few minutes, numbering in the hundreds since Wednesday.

Wang said time is crucial, as rescuers try to maximize the first 72 hours after the quake.

As of Friday afternoon, there were 1,123 people injured, 634 trapped and 13 missing, according to the Central Disaster Response Center. Hualien Mayor Wei Chia-yen said the missing included three foreigners from Australia and Canada.

Most of those trapped are at a hotel and activity center inside the national park and have been confirmed safe. Helicopters are supplying food and water until everyone can be brought out, as well as airlifting those who are injured and families with children.

In the county seat of Hualien, a city of about 100,000 people, most places were back to normal — a reflection of Taiwan’s effort to strengthen earthquake preparedness and response since a 7.6-magnitude tremor in 1999 that killed about 2,400 people.

On Friday afternoon, demolition work began on a midrise building that was tilted at a dangerous angle after mostly collapsing in Wednesday’s quake.

At a ceremony beforehand, offerings were made for the one person who died in the building, a woman who returned to her apartment after the quake to try to rescue her cat.

Janis Mackey Frayer and Andy Yeh reported from Hualien, Taiwan, and Jennifer Jett reported from Hong Kong.