Rescuers in Taiwan search for missing or stranded people after major earthquake kills 10

HUALIEN, Taiwan –

Rescuers searched for missing people Thursday and worked to reach hundreds of stranded people as Taiwan’s strongest earthquake in 25 years sent rocks and mud down mountain slopes, blocking roads. Ten people were killed and more than 1,000 injured.

The powerful earthquake struck during the morning rush hour the previous day, causing schoolchildren to run out and families to flee from their apartments through the windows. The ground floors of some buildings collapsed, leaving them leaning at precarious angles. Although the island is regularly shaken by earthquakes and is generally well prepared, authorities did not send out the usual alerts because they expected a smaller tremor.

Some residents of the eastern coastal city of Hualien, near the epicenter, were staying in tents and the main highway linking the county to the capital, Taipei, was still closed Thursday afternoon, but much of daily life of Taiwan returned to normal. Some local rail service to Hualien has resumed and Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co., one of the world’s largest computer chip makers, restarted most operations, the Central News Agency reported.

Nearly 1,070 people were injured in the earthquake. Of the 10 dead, at least four died inside Taroko National Park, a tourist attraction famous for its canyons and cliffs in mountainous Hualien county, about 150 kilometers (90 miles) from Taipei. One person was found dead in a damaged building and another in the Ho Ren quarry. First responders also pulled the body of a man, who had serious head injuries, from a hiking trail.

Hundreds of people were stranded when rocks and mud blocked roads leading to their hotel, campsite or workplace, although most were safe while awaiting rescue. It was unclear Thursday whether people were still trapped in the buildings.

Liu Zhong-da, a 58-year-old construction worker, and his colleague were heading to work on a national park road and were inside a tunnel when the earthquake hit. A rock blocked their exit and they were trapped along with other people.

“They almost covered us,” Liu said. “No communication (with the outside world) could be established.” Liu and his colleague were rescued on Thursday afternoon and received a quick medical checkup outside the park.

About 60 workers who had been unable to leave a quarry because of road damage were also freed, authorities said. Six workers from another quarry were rescued by plane.

About 650 people remain isolated, the vast majority of them employees and guests of a hotel in the national park. Authorities said they were safe and had food and water, and that work to repair roads to the hotel was almost complete. Another 30 workers from the same hotel were stranded in other parts of the park, but authorities said drone footage showed they also appeared safe.

Authorities said they could not contact a handful of other people and their condition was unknown.

In the city of Hualien on Thursday, workers used an excavator to stabilize the base of a damaged building, while chickens pecked among potted plants on the flat roof tilted at a severe angle.

Mayor Hsu Chen-wei said earlier that 48 residential buildings were damaged by the earthquake. Hendri Sutrisno, a 30-year-old professor at Hualien Dong Hwa University, spent Wednesday night in a tent with his wife and his baby, fearing aftershocks.

“We ran out of the apartment and waited four to five hours before going back up to grab some important things, like our wallet. And since then we stayed here to evaluate the situation,” he said.

Others also said they dared not return home because the walls of their apartments were cracked or they lived on higher floors. Taiwanese Prime Minister Chen Chien-jen visited some earthquake evacuees in a temporary shelter in the morning.

The earthquake was the strongest to hit Taiwan in 25 years, measured at a magnitude of 7.4 by the U.S. Geological Survey.

Huang Shiao-en was in his apartment when the earthquake hit. “At first the building swayed from side to side and then shook up and down,” he said.

The Central Meteorological Administration recorded more than 400 aftershocks from Wednesday morning to Thursday night. The national legislature and sections of Taipei’s main airport suffered minor damage.

Hualien was last rocked by a deadly earthquake in 2018 that killed 17 people and leveled a historic hotel. Taiwan’s worst recent earthquake occurred on September 21, 1999, a magnitude 7.7 tremor that caused 2,400 deaths, injured about 100,000, and destroyed thousands of buildings.

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Leung reported from Hong Kong. Associated Press video journalist Taijing Wu contributed to this report.

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