Miners rescued in Taiwan as earthquake injuries top 1000

Some buildings are tilted at precarious angles in Hualien after a magnitude 7.2 earthquake.

Some buildings are tilted at precarious angles in Hualien after a magnitude 7.2 earthquake. Photo: Getty

A helicopter has plucked to safety six people stranded in a mining area after Taiwan’s worst earthquake in 25 years, while hundreds of aftershocks rocking the eastern region near its epicentre drove scores more to seek shelter outdoors.

The number of injured in Wednesday’s 7.2-magnitude quake rose to 1058, authorities said, while most of the roughly 50 hotel workers marooned on a highway as they travelled to a resort in Taroko National Park had been found.

A further 646 people are still trapped, most of them in hotels in the park, a key tourist attraction, as the road was cut off, the fire department said.

Work continued to open the road into Taroko, which is known as the cross-island highway and traverses the gorge connecting Hualien with Taiwan’s west coast.

The railway line to Hualien reopened ahead of schedule on Thursday, although one rural station north of Hualien city remained closed due to damage, the railway administration said.

The death toll stayed at nine from the earthquake that struck offshore on Wednesday, just as people were readying to go to work and school in largely rural and sparsely populated Hualien county.

Buildings also shook violently in Taipei, the capital, but there was minimal damage and disruption there.

Those trapped in buildings in the worst-hit city of Hualien have all been rescued, but many residents unnerved by more than 300 aftershocks spent the night outdoors.

“The aftershocks were terrifying,” said Yu, a 52-year-old woman, who gave only her family name.

“It’s non-stop. I do not dare to sleep in the house.”

Too scared to return to her apartment, which she described as being in a “mess”, she slept in a tent on a sports ground being used for temporary shelter.

Hualien residents evacuate their belongings from a damaged building on Thursday following the deadly earthquake. Photo: Getty

Dozens of residents queued outside one badly damaged 10-storey building in the city, waiting to get in and retrieve belongings.

Clad in helmets and accompanied by government personnel, each was given 10 minutes to collect valuables in huge garbage bags, though some saved time by throwing belongings out of windows into the street below.

“This building is no longer liveable,” said Tian Liang-si, who lived on the fifth floor, as she scrambled to gather her laptop, family photographs and other crucial items.

She recalled the moment the quake struck, with the building lurching and furniture sliding, as she rushed to save the four puppies she keeps as pets.

“I’m a Hualien native,” she told Reuters. “I’m not supposed to fear earthquakes. But this is an earthquake that frightened us.”

The quake hit at a depth of 15.5 kilometres just as people were headed for work and school.

Video showed rescuers using ladders to help trapped people out of windows.

Strong tremors in Taipei forced the subway system to close briefly, although most lines resumed service on Thursday.

President-elect Lai Ching-te told reporters that the government’s top priority was “to rescue people”.

Taiwan’s air force said six F-16 fighter jets had been slightly damaged at a major base in the city from which jets are often scrambled to see off incursions by China’s air force, but the aircraft are expected to return to service very soon.

Chinese state media said the quake was felt in the south-eastern province of Fujian while a Reuters witness said it was also felt in the commercial hub of Shanghai.

Aftershocks could still be felt in Taipei, with more than 50 recorded, weather officials said.

Most power has been restored after the quake, electricity utility Taipower said, with the island’s two nuclear power stations unaffected.

The official Central News Agency said the quake was the biggest since one of magnitude 7.6 in 1999 that killed about 2400 people and damaged or destroyed 50,000 buildings.

Taiwan weather officials ranked Wednesday’s quake in Hualien as “Upper 6”, or the second-highest level of intensity on a scale ranging from 1 to 7.

Such quakes collapse walls unless they are made of reinforced concrete blocks while people cannot stand upright and must crawl in order to move, experts say.

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