‘They were locked in an embrace’ – Hong Kong couple found crushed to death in Taiwan quake

Peter and Freda So, both 60, were staying in the lower floors of a building that caved in when the 6.4 magnitude quake struck late on Tuesday. Their bodies were found on Friday morning.

PUBLISHED : Friday, 09 February, 2018, 8:01pm
UPDATED : Friday, 09 February, 2018, 11:30pm

The Hong Kong couple who died in the aftermath of the Taiwan earthquake were found locked in an embrace, their bodies pressed down by a broken slab of cement ceiling.

“We felt very sorry because we came too late,” one of the three rescuers the Post spoke to said, as he and his teammates worked to extricate the broken bodies from the rubble that was once the Beauty Stay Hotel.

Peter and Freda So, both 60-year-old Hongkongers and Canadian citizens, were among seven people unaccounted for after a 6.4 magnitude quake struck the eastern coastal county of Hualien before midnight on Tuesday, partially toppling the Yun Men Tsu Ti building, which housed the hotel on its lower floors.

More than 100 rescuers had been working in groups of 12 to 15 to search for survivors, their efforts hampered by dangerous conditions as the 12-storey building teetered precariously at a 45 degree angle, with its first two floors wedged into the ground.

They came across the bodies of the couple after 60 hours. They had been staying in room 213 and the rescue team had to access the crushed area from the third floor.

Before dawn on Friday, three sets of equipment used for detecting signs of life flashed red, giving rescuers some hope, one of them said.

At around 11.30am, rescuers managed to drill a hole into the area where the room had caved in, where they found a suitcase, which was certified later as belonging to the couple. But there were no bodies.

So they drilled another hole on the other side of the room. By 12.53pm, they came across a leg on a bed. An hour later, the lower parts of the couple’s bodies were found, dashing any hope that they had survived.

“Their upper bodies were still trapped by the rubble and it took us more than one and a half hours to carefully remove them from the debris,” the rescuer surnamed Liang said.

“They were embracing each other when we found their bodies.”

The disappointed rescuers said they felt they had wasted precious time, as the seven people unaccounted for – including a family of five from the mainland – were not at the rooms that hotel staff said they would be in.

Taiwanese media reported that rescuers were first told the couple was in room 208 but a search yielded nothing. They were then told to look at rooms 218 and 215.

It was only at 9pm on Thursday that they found out that the couple had been in room 213. That was also when they received the correct room information for the four adults and 12-year-old boy who were still missing.

“I feel very sorry about this,” hotel owner Chen Kuang-yin said, when questioned by reporters about why rescuers were not given accurate information.

The owner said only the hotel reception chief Chiang Cheng-chang had the room assignment details. Chiang was among 12 people who died in the quake, which also left 278 others injured.

Lawrence Chung is reporting from Taiwan