Taipei rejects Beijing’s offer of help with earthquake rescue mission - just before second quake
Taiwan said it has the resources to cope with the search for 67 missing people - but that was before a second quake hit the same area on Wednesday
Taiwan turned down an offer from Beijing on Wednesday to send a rescue team to the island after a powerful earthquake hit the coastal city of Hualien on Tuesday, killing at least seven people and injuring 257 others.
The magnitude 6.4 earthquake struck 21km (13 miles) northeast of the popular tourist city just before midnight. Rescuers were still searching for 67 missing people on Wednesday evening as aftershocks continued to hit the area. Four buildings collapsed in the quake, trapping dozens of people, the Central Emergency Operation Centre said, and roads and bridges were damaged.
And hours after Taipei rejected the offer for help - saying that it didn’t need the manpower - Hualien was struck by another earthquake, this one of 5.7 magnitude.
The second quake struck at the same point as the first, at a depth of 11km (6.8 miles), according to the US Geological Survey.
The Mainland Affairs Council told the South China Morning Post it appreciated the offer of help – seen as an olive branch from Beijing at a tense time for cross-strait relations – but it had enough manpower and resources.
“At the moment, we have adequate manpower and facilities in support of the rescue operation,” said Chiu Chui-cheng, vice-chairman of the council, which takes care of mainland policy. “We deeply appreciate their offer, but so far we are not in need of their help.”
Asked if this was a missed opportunity to break the ice with Beijing, Chiu said: “Basically it is a natural disaster and the rescue involves humanitarian efforts. They shouldn’t be used as [a bridge] for political connection.”
The council later issued a statement saying it did not need any external help with the rescue efforts.
Cross-strait relations turned sour when Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen refused to accept the “one-China” principle after she took office in May 2016. Beijing suspended cross-strait talks and exchanges with Taiwan, which it considers to be a breakaway province.
Zhang Zhijun, director of the mainland’s Taiwan Affairs Office, earlier said Beijing was “willing to send a rescue team to Taiwan” to help with relief efforts as “compatriots of the two sides are a family”.
Wang Kung-yi, a political science professor at Chinese Culture University in Taipei, said it was understandable Taipei would reject the offer of help given that the two sides were at loggerheads over Beijing’s launch of a new flight route, M503, which Taipei says is a security and safety risk.
“The Tsai government is unlikely to do anything that might be seen as a compromise over the dispute, such as agreeing for Beijing to send a rescue team to Taiwan,” Wang said. “Besides, the authorities can cope with a disaster of this scale, which is relatively small compared with the devastating earthquake that killed more than 2,000 people in Taiwan in September 1999.”
Tsai surveyed the damage in Hualien on Wednesday morning, visiting a hospital where a 40-year-old mainland Chinese tourist was in critical condition. The woman, identified as Yu Fei, 45, died on Wednesday night.
Yu had been travelling with her son and was seriously injured when the motel they were staying in collapsed. The motel was located on the first and second floors of a collapsed apartment block that was one of the four buildings badly damaged in the quake.
Six other mainland tourists were treated for minor injuries, the council said.
At least 31 foreign visitors – including nine tourists from Japan, two from the Czech Republic, two from the United States and one from Denmark – were injured, police said.
On Wednesday afternoon, 14 hours after the quake hit, firefighters pulled the body of Chou Chih-hsuan, 35, from the rubble of the 12-storey Marshal Hotel, police said. Chou had worked at the hotel, which had caved in. Half an hour later, another man was pulled from the rubble alive. Liang Shu-wei, 26, also worked at the hotel and survived the earthquake with a few minor scratches, police said.
“We heard someone shouting as we were sifting through the rubble of the first floor, which was completely crushed,” a firefighter told reporters. “We found the first guy near what was left of the hotel counter and pulled him out through a passage we had dug, but he was unresponsive as we carried him out,” he said. “Then we heard the other man nearby shouting for help.”
Liang’s mother had been waiting at the scene for hours and broke down when she saw her son walking unaided. “His friend called me, telling me my son might be under there and I came straight to the hotel to look for him,” she told reporters.
The rescue operation had to be suspended in the afternoon at a combined motel and residential building that was tilting at an angle of 60 degrees because of fears it was about to collapse. Steel supports were used to reinforce the structure and the rescue mission resumed late afternoon.
Two people were found alive in the debris of the building before dawn but died on the way to hospital. The body of a woman was found there later in the day, while a second woman was pulled unconscious from the rubble and is being treated in hospital.