Taiwan earthquake survivors recall destruction, rescue from sealed tunnels

Taiwan residents endured harrowing experiences on Wednesday when the ground shook with the strongest earthquake to hit the island in 25 years. People saw rocks tumble onto roadways, watched parts of their homes fall around them and waited for rescuers to free them from rubble.

The historic quake killed at least 12 people and injured more than 1,000. Several hundred people remained stranded after vital highways were damaged and the walls of some structures cracked.

The quake’s epicenter was just off the coast of eastern Hualien County, a rural area known for tourism and rice paddy fields, but also the site of frequent earthquakes and tsunamis. Taiwan’s earthquake monitoring agency said the quake was 7.2 magnitude while the U.S. Geological Survey put it at 7.4.

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These are the recollections shared by some survivors of the disaster:

LIU ZHONG-DA, ROAD MAINTENANCE WORKER

Liu Zhong-da had been driving in an open tunnel that winds through the mountainous Taroko National Park when he saw a giant rock crash down in front of the tunnel’s end. Liu and his colleague, Bai Fu-sheng, worked for a company in charge of road maintenance. They immediately turned the car around but found the entrance blocked by a rockslide.

They were trapped, but alive.

Liu Zhong-da, a worker of Taroko National Park gets a physical examination after being rescued in Hualien County, eastern Taiwan

Liu Zhong-da, a worker of Taroko National Park gets a physical examination after being rescued in Hualien County, eastern Taiwan, on April 4, 2024. (AP Photo/Chiang Ying-ying)

“That tunnel has a very good structure, so there are a total of four cars there,” he said. “It had protected us. Rocks were falling in front of us and behind us.”

Liu was no stranger to earthquakes.

“Every year, we’d go up there to work, and when we go up, there would be some rocks falling down but in a localized fashion,” he said. “This time, the entire thing fell down, and though the window was shut, the rocks fell so much they cracked the windows.”

HUANG HSIAO-EN, HUALIEN RESIDENT

Huang Hsiao-en, a Hualien resident and college student, said she had just woken up and was about to leave home.

“When I came out I felt the shake and thought I still haven’t woken up,” she said.

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“At first it started shaking from right to left, and then it started shaking from bottom to top. The TV fell down, all the things that could fall, all fell down. The glass from the TV cabinet, and the bowls and plates in the kitchen cabinet all fell down.”

“I’m still a bit anxious, how could there be such a severe earthquake?”

DAVID CHEN, SILKS PLACE TAROKO HOTEL EMPLOYEE

David Chen described an anxious day of watching rescue workers use different machines to remove rocks blocking a road tunnel where he was trapped with other employees of the Silks Place Taroko Hotel.

“We didn’t have any food, but some of our employees had brought their own breakfast, and we had some bottled water in the bus. I handed it out and told them to be sparing, you can’t die from hunger, but you can die from thirst,” he said.

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Rescue workers dug and then paused and retreated. Then they returned with a different machine.

“When I saw them, I knew we were saved. I’m thankful for them saving us. I was very happy when I saw him,” he said of a worker he knew to be in charge of the road section.

“It’s good to be alive!”

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