Over 600 people stranded in Taiwan earthquake

Rescuers in Taiwan had plans to deploy heavy machinery on Saturday to recover two bodies entombed along a hiking trail, with over 600 people still marooned in various spots, three days following the most potent earthquake to rock the island in a quarter-century.

The Shakadang Trail within Taroko National Park, renowned for its rugged landscape, harbored four individuals still unaccounted for. Search and recovery operations were slated to resume after being halted on Friday afternoon due to aftershocks.

The magnitude 7.4 earthquake, which struck off Taiwan’s eastern coast on Wednesday morning, claimed at least 12 lives, with 10 individuals still reported missing. More than 600 people, approximately 450 of whom were lodged in a hotel within Taroko Park, remained stranded, obstructed by rockslides and infrastructure damage in diverse areas. Nevertheless, rescue teams, employing helicopters, drones, and smaller groups with search dogs, were working diligently to reach them.

On Friday, nine individuals trapped in the labyrinthine Tunnel of Nine Turns, a popular tourist attraction in the island’s mountainous east, were liberated by rescuers, with two others located, previously feared deceased.

A survivor evacuated from the cave expressed her relief, describing the earthquake’s sound as akin to “a bomb.” Among the four missing on the Shakadang Trail were a family of five. The two recovered bodies on Friday, a man and a woman, remained unidentified, as per Taiwanese media reports.

In Hualien city, authorities permitted residents to access a structurally compromised building in 15-minute intervals to retrieve their possessions. Some opted to toss mattresses and bags of clothes out the window, while a young mother carefully carried a cot for her 10-month-old child. She recounted her focus during the tremor, solely on shielding her baby, expressing surprise at the gravity of the situation.

Ten minutes away, workers commenced demolishing Uranus, a building tilting at a precarious 45-degree angle with half its first floor collapsed. As night descended, a crane was employed to dismantle the roof of the concrete edifice.

Adjacent to Uranus, a digital sign on another building displayed a message of encouragement: “Don’t give up! Hualien add oil!”, using a Chinese phrase for support.

The national disaster agency reported over 1,100 injuries. Meanwhile, Taiwan condemned Bolivia on Saturday for extending solidarity to China following the quake, which Beijing considers its own.

Bolivia’s foreign ministry issued a statement on Friday expressing support for China in the aftermath of the earthquake off Taiwan’s coast. Taiwan’s foreign minister, Joseph Wu, rebuked Bolivia on X (formerly Twitter), asserting its status separate from communist China.

Taiwan’s relatively low casualty count from such a formidable earthquake is attributed to stringent construction standards and widespread public education campaigns on the quake-prone island. A magnitude 7.7 earthquake in 1999 claimed the lives of 2,400 people.

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