Missing Hong Kong couple found dead in aftermath of Taiwan earthquake

Rescuers were still searching for a mainland family of five trapped in a collapsed building in Hualien

PUBLISHED : Friday, 09 February, 2018, 9:53am
UPDATED : Friday, 09 February, 2018, 8:21pm

A Hong Kong couple who went missing after Tuesday’s earthquake in Taiwan was certified dead after rescuers found their bodies on Friday. Peter and Freda So, both 60, were found locked in embrace, a sight that moved rescuers on the scene to tears, according to Taiwanese media.

The discovery marked a tragic turn in a major search operation for the pair and five mainland Chinese tourists trapped in a partially collapsed building in the Taiwanese city of Hualien.

All seven were staying at a hotel on the first three floors of the Yun Men Tsui Ti building, where seven others died after Tuesday’s magnitude 6.4 quake, Taiwan’s Central Emergency Operation Centre said.

The Hong Kong couple, both Canadian nationals, were registered at the Beauty Stay hotel under the name Peter So. The four adults and one 12-year-old child from mainland China, all from the same family, were also guests there. They have yet to be found.

Earlier on Friday, Taiwanese search and rescue personnel said they had found the initial location of the guests, but rescue efforts had been hampered by the dangerous conditions in the building.

The search and rescue process has been slow due to the severe displacement and crushed lower floors of the site
Taiwan’s Central Emergency Operation Centre

The team had tried to enter Room 201, where the mainland Chinese tourists were staying, but were blocked by a major structural beam. They had to change tactics and go down from the third floor starting on Friday morning.

The Hong Kong couple were in Room 213.

Rescuers were able to reach the room but were unable to find the pair at first.

“The search and rescue process has been slow due to the severe displacement and crushed lower floors of the site, which made the working space very small,” the emergency centre said on Friday morning.

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The Canadian Trade Office in Taipei, which represents the interests of Canada in Taiwan, previously said it was aware of reports that Canadian citizens were missing following the Hualien earthquake.

“Canadian consular officials are in contact with local authorities to gather additional information and providing consular assistance to [the] family … our thoughts are with the family and friends during this difficult time,” a spokeswoman for the office said in response to inquiries from the Post, in a reply sent before the bodies were found.

The office declined to reveal details of the case and the individuals involved due to privacy concerns.

Hualien, on Taiwan’s eastern coast, was struck by a second, magnitude 5.7 earthquake on Wednesday night. The city has also experienced 15 aftershocks, ranging between magnitude 2.9 and 4.1, since Thursday evening.

The death toll has risen to 12, including three mainland Chinese tourists. Some 278 people were injured, while authorities had rescued more than 230 victims and evacuated 830 others as of 4pm on Friday, the emergency centre said.

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The 12-storey Yun Men Tsui Ti building was one of four badly damaged structures, with its lower floors caved in. It tilted almost 45 degrees after the earthquake and had to be propped up with steel beams.

The centre added that professional structure technicians had been giving assistance and guidance on site during the operation period.

The authorities have dispatched more than 2,000 rescue personnel for the disaster relief operation since Tuesday night.

Lawrence Chung is reporting from Taiwan