Taiwan rescuers free nine from cave after quake

Taiwan rescuers free nine from cave after quake

Nine people were freed from a winding cave in Taiwan's mountainous east, while two others were located but feared dead, as rescuers pressed on with their search Friday for those still missing after the island's biggest earthquake in 25 years.

Taiwan rescuers free nine from cave after quake
Photo by Handout / Taiwan’s Central Emergency Operations Center / AFP

The official death toll from Wednesday's magnitude-7.4 quake still stood at 10, but the government in Hualien county, the hardest-hit area, said two more people on a hiking trail were found with "no signs of life", though their deaths could not be immediately verified.

"Currently, the two people seen at the scene cannot be identified because they are buried too deep and have not been completely dug out," the national disaster agency said.

As of Friday, hundreds of people were still stranded around the mountains that flank the county, with roads blocked off by landslides and rockfalls. However, most were known to be safe as rescuers deployed helicopters, drones and smaller teams with dogs to reach them.

The county government said rescuers had found nine people alive in a cave popular with tourists called the Tunnel of Nine Turns.

In the main city of Hualien, workers had started demolishing a building named Uranus -- which was tilting at a 45-degree angle after half of its first floor pancaked -- slowly using a pink crane to smash its glass windows.

The building had aged a great deal since it was built in 1986, said Hualien County chief Hsu Chen-wei.

"We hope to complete the demolition within two weeks so Hualien people can return to their regular lives. We hope that everyone will not be in such a panicky situation," Hsu said.

Before the demolition began, workers and officials held a small ceremony, burning joss sticks and offering flowers, drinks and fruits to pray for a smooth job.

Next to the Uranus, a digital sign on another building blared, "Don't give up! Hualien add oil!" -- using a Chinese expression of support.

The national disaster agency said 10 people had been killed and 1,106 injured.

More than 700 were stranded but accounted for, while authorities had lost contact with 18.

- Stranded, but safe -

Rescuers set off early Friday to airdrop boxes of food and supplies to a group of students, teachers, residents and some tourists stuck at an elementary school that was inaccessible.

Nine "disaster-hit" people were also airlifted out from a luxury hotel, the Silks Place Taroko, that had converted its parking lot into a makeshift helicopter landing pad.

One of the places cut off was a youth hostel, where a staffer told AFP on Thursday that more than 50 people -- including a Briton and four German nationals -- were stuck waiting for roads to be cleared.

"We are all safe and have enough supplies. The damaged roads are being repaired," the staffer surnamed Lin said, adding that she was hopeful they could leave by Friday afternoon.

In Taiwan's north, life continued as normal, though remnants of the quake damage could still be seen.

One sky train rail in New Taipei City appeared to have been dislodged, with engineers and welders working to fix the line, while alleys around Taipei where debris was still falling were cordoned off.

Wednesday's quake was the most serious in Taiwan since a magnitude-7.6 seism hit the island in 1999.

The death toll then was far higher -- with 2,400 people killed in the deadliest natural disaster in the island's history.

Stricter regulations -- including enhanced seismic requirements in its building codes -- and widespread public disaster awareness appeared to have staved off a more major catastrope this time around.

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