Japanese quake rescue team arrives after Taipei rejects Beijing’s offer

As search continues for seven people still missing, government says it accepted Japan’s help because rescuers brought hi-tech equipment to detect signs of life 

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 08 February, 2018, 10:28pm
UPDATED : Friday, 09 February, 2018, 2:35am

A day after Taiwan rejected Beijing’s offer to send help following a powerful earthquake that killed at least 10 people and injured 272 others, a seven-member Japanese team arrived in Hualien on Thursday to assist with rescue efforts.

The seven people still missing are five mainland Chinese from the same family, including a 12-year-old boy, and a Hong Kong couple with Canadian citizenship. All of them were staying at the Beautiful Stay motel which was part of a residential tower block that collapsed, the Central Emergency Operation Centre said.

Taiwan quake claims 3 more mainland Chinese, as death toll hits 9

The Japanese team brought with them two sets of the latest equipment to detect signs of life among earthquake debris.

Japan was among the first to offer assistance and support after the magnitude 6.4 earthquake struck 21km (13 miles) northeast of coastal tourist city Hualien just before midnight on Tuesday.

Local media and observers said Taipei’s decision to allow the Japanese team to assist in the rescue operation but reject Beijing’s offer was understandable at a time when cross-strait ties had deteriorated. Beijing, which considers Taiwan a breakaway province, suspended exchanges and talks with Taipei after President Tsai Ing-wen took office in 2016 and refused to accept the “one China” principle. 

Relations worsened last month when Beijing opened a new flight route close the island without Taipei’s agreement.

On Wednesday, Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council said the island had enough manpower and resources for the rescue efforts and it did not need outside help. 

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But Tsai’s spokesman Alex Huang said the decision had nothing to do with politics. “It is true that we don’t need external manpower and resources because we have all these things,” he said, adding that the government accepted help from Japan because it had cutting-edge equipment that would make the search for survivors more effective.

Philip Yang, director of the Taiwan Association of International Relations, said from a humanitarian point of view, there was nothing wrong with accepting assistance from Japan and using its equipment in the rescue operation. But he said Taiwan should have accepted Beijing’s help.

“The government should also have accepted the offer from the mainland because at least nine people – four who died and five who are still missing – are from the mainland,” Yang said.

Earlier on Thursday, rescuers pulled the bodies of three mainland tourists from the rubble of the Beautiful Stay motel, taking the number of mainlanders killed in the quake to four.

The bodies of the three women, identified as Wei Jia, 52, Yang Lirong, 47, and Lee Yangqi, 19, were found in a bedroom at the motel, the Central Emergency Operation Centre said.

The women arrived in the city on Tuesday and were sharing a room, according to the Straits Exchange Foundation, a semi-official agency set up to deal with the mainland in the absence of formal relations.

On Wednesday, another woman visiting from the mainland, Yu Fei, 40, died in hospital from a serious head injury sustained in the quake, the Mainland Affairs Council said.

Hong Kong couple among 7 still missing after deadly Taiwan quake

Council officials said the foundation had passed on the information about the people killed to its mainland counterpart, the Association of Relations Across the Taiwan Strait (Arats).

Yu’s husband arrived in Taipei on Wednesday, the foundation said, adding that it was helping Yu’s mother and brother, as well as the families of the three other women killed to travel to Taiwan to retrieve the bodies.

Rescuers on Thursday also found the body of an employee of the Beautiful Stay motel in a first floor room that was crushed when the building listed, the centre said. In the evening, the body of a Filipino aged care worker was also pulled from the collapsed building. The motel was part of an 11-storey residential building that had been built on the Milun Fault that lies below Hualien. 

“There was no problem with the materials used in the construction of the building as the structure from the fourth floor up was still intact despite the collapse,” said Liu Yen-hu, president of the Hualien County Architecture Association.

“It tilted mostly because it was built on top of the fault, and because there were balconies on just one side of the building,” he said.

Steel beams have been used to stabilise the building while rescuers try to find survivors on the opposite side, Associated Press reported.

The rescue operation has been interrupted several times by strong aftershocks. Three tremors of magnitudes between 4 and 4.8 were recorded on Thursday morning, while a magnitude 5.7 aftershock was reported on Wednesday night.