Hong Kong couple among 7 still missing after deadly Taiwan quake

Pair were staying at hotel in collapsed building where seven people died in Hualien city centre

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 08 February, 2018, 10:25am
UPDATED : Thursday, 08 February, 2018, 11:50pm

A couple from Hong Kong were among seven people still missing as violent aftershocks continued to rock the Taiwanese city of Hualien on Thursday.

The pair were staying at the Pretty Baby Inn, a hotel on the first three floors of the partially collapsed and tilted Yun Men Tsui Ti building, where seven people died after Tuesday’s magnitude-6.4 quake, Taiwan’s official Central News Agency reported.

The pair had registered at the hotel under the name Peter So.

Hong Kong’s Immigration Department said 17 people and their relatives had sought help, and 15 individuals were safe as of 5pm on Thursday.

“Family members of the remaining two people have said that they had lost contact with them in Taiwan. The Immigration Department is working closely with the Hong Kong Economic, Trade and Cultural Office (Taiwan) to follow up on the incident and provide assistance to those seeking help,” the department said.

Five others staying at the hotel were also unaccounted for as of 6pm on Thursday, Taiwan’s Central Emergency Operation Centre said.

Hualien, on Taiwan’s eastern coast, felt 13 aftershocks ranging between magnitude 3.2 and 4.8 on Thursday, while a magnitude-5.7 earthquake was recorded on Wednesday night.

The death toll had risen to 10, including three mainland Chinese tourists. Some 273 were injured, while authorities rescued more than 230 and evacuated 800 others as of 6pm on Thursday, the emergency centre said.

The 12-storey Yun Men Tsui Ti building was one of the four badly damaged. It had tilted almost 45 degrees and was propped up with steel beams.

Rescue efforts at the city centre building were hampered by tremors throughout the day.

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Ryan Chang was horrified to learn that his parents and 15-year-old sister were among the dozens of families that had been trapped in the collapsed structure.

“I got a call at midnight [on Tuesday] from my brother telling me our home had collapsed and our family was trapped on the eighth floor of the building,” Chang told the Post via text message. “I couldn’t stop shaking. I panicked. Because I knew there were tremors. I couldn’t stop imagining if there was anything worse that was going to happen to them.”

What was originally part of the fourth floor collapsed before firefighters propped up the building.

Chang’s family was trapped for three hours before relatives mobilised a vehicle with a crane to rescue them. All three suffered minor injuries.

“Because I work in Taoyuan, I took the earliest train I could at 5.30am to Hualien. Even though they were already rescued by that time, I couldn’t help but cry when I saw them,” Chang said.

“I couldn’t sleep for the whole night. When I got there [and saw our home], it felt like a piece of me was cut out from my chest … luckily my family ended up OK, I just want this catastrophe to end.”

A family of five who emigrated from Hong Kong to Taiwan last year was enjoying a stay in a traditional Japanese-style house in Hualien, a stop on their tour around the island, when the first earthquake shook them awake.

Joanne, the mother, said in a video uploaded to the family’s Facebook page on Wednesday that the initial tremor lasted for about 30 seconds, but the family did not run out to seek help or shelter.

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“I was woken by the loud cracking of the wooden sliding door and felt the whole ground was shaking when I got up. It lasted for about 30 seconds,” she said.

“My husband and I checked on the kids, and we all continued to sleep despite constant aftershocks, without realising that we were so close to death.”