Taiwan earthquake: Rocks rain down like bullets on mountain – survivor

  • Rupert Wingfield-Hayes & Kelly Ng
  • In Hualien and Singapore

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A 7.4 magnitude earthquake hit Taiwan

Rescuers are working to rescue around 100 people trapped in Taiwan, a day after the island was hit by its worst earthquake in 25 years.

One survivor describes how tremors unleashed rocks “like guns” around the coal mine where he worked.

A 7.4-magnitude earthquake struck near the eastern province of Hualien, killing nine people and injuring more than 1,000.

Some people trapped in tunnels and near the national park have been rescued by helicopters, but 34 people are still missing.

According to local reports, food supplies have been airdropped for dozens of people trapped in these areas.

“Rocks started raining like bullets on the mountain, and we had nowhere to escape, and everyone ran near the sandbags,” the survivor, identified by her surname Xu, told Taiwan's Central News Agency.

Three of the nine dead were hikers on a trail leading to Taroko National Park, named after a prominent gorge just outside Hualien.

In the city of Hualien, the capital of the quake-hit district, relief efforts are proceeding quickly as workers use excavators and other heavy equipment to demolish several damaged buildings.

On Thursday morning, the BBC also saw relief workers removing large rocks – the size of fallen cars – near the tracks to resume normal train services.

They are using large amounts of gravel and rock to shore up the 10-story structure, called the Uranus Building, which has been leaning downward since the earthquake — preventing it from falling down in the event of another earthquake.

A female teacher was found dead in the building when she returned to rescue her cat, local reports said.

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The red brick Uranus building leans dangerously

Hsu Chiu-yueh, who was working opposite the Uranus building when it collapsed, told the BBC: “It shook so much I couldn't walk. I was so scared. I felt my legs were out of control. Thanks to my colleagues, they pulled me up so we could get out.”

“There was a lot of dust in our building when we left… we [later] “I realized the part came from a building across the street that had collapsed,” the 50-year-old said.

Another Hualien resident described how the earthquake had disrupted his home.

“When I got out of bed a clothes rack and a low shelf fell down,” Ocean Tsai told BBC Scene.

“It kept getting stronger, and I started to worry about our belongings at home. Fortunately, the damage was minimal, apart from the overturned motorcycle.”

The quake, which struck about 18km (11mi) south of Hualin, was followed by more than 200 aftershocks, dozens of them measuring at least 6.5 on the Richter scale or higher, hampering search and rescue efforts. Taiwanese authorities expect more aftershocks in the next few days.

Pictures show how the road outside Hualien's Qingshui Tunnel – one of many winding roads that wind along Hualien's rocky coastline – has simply collapsed.

Routes like Qingshui are popular with tourists because of the spectacular views from the mountains to the Pacific Ocean. But they are also known to be treacherous, prone to landslides no less.

Further north, the capital Taipei was also rocked by violence, with scenes showing damaged buildings and people being evacuated. Local television stations broadcast clips of smashed vehicles and defaced shops.

“The earthquake was close to land and it was shallow. It was felt across Taiwan and offshore islands… It was the strongest in 25 years,” Wu Hsien Fu, director of Taipei's Seismological Center, said on Wednesday.

Power outages and internet outages have been reported across the country.

The quake triggered tsunami warnings for nearby Japanese and Philippine islands on Wednesday, but these warnings were later downgraded.

Although Taiwan has a history of earthquakes, locals and foreigners who have lived in Taipei for years say this is the strongest earthquake they have experienced in decades.

The last earthquake of magnitude 7.6 occurred in September 1999, killing 2,400 people and destroying 5,000 buildings.

Additional reporting by Fan Wang in Singapore

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