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'It was like a bomb blast': Hualien quake survivor

2018/02/08 20:44:01

Photo courtesy of Lee Sheng-lung

Taipei, Feb. 8 (CNA) It was an ordinary day for Lee Sheng-lung (李昇隆), who had checked into the Beauty Inn in downtown Hualien, as usual, after he arrived in the eastern city Tuesday on a business trip.

But it turned out to be a day he would never forget.

That night, Lee was relaxing in bed, reading some documents, when everything around him began to shake and rattle.

"I thought to myself, I'm definitely dead this time," Lee told CNA in a phone interview Wednesday.

Within a few seconds, he said, his room went pitch black, then the ceiling collapsed, the bed started tilting and the three floor-to-ceiling windows in the room imploded.

"It was like bomb blast," Lee said, adding that he immediately heard people in other rooms screaming for help.

Because the tremors became violent so quickly, Lee said, he had no time to take cover under the table but could only grab a blanket to protect his head.

When the building finally stopped shaking, he said, he heard a message alert on his smartphone, which lit up the screen, and he was able to locate the phone quickly.

"He saved my life," Lee said, referring to the friend who had sent him the message.

Using the screen light on his phone, he said, he spread the blanket on the floor to avoid stepping on broken glass and managed to make his way out of the building.

Lee said he was helped by a series of fortunate events, starting with the allocation of his room.

He had booked a room on the first floor of the building but on Tuesday, he was assigned one on the second floor, he said. That saved his life because when the quake struck, the first floor of the building was almost completely squashed.

Another stroke of luck for him, he said, was that when the building tilted on its foundations, his room ended up on the lower side, which made it easier for him to escape.

At the end of the ordeal, Lee had only minor injuries -- cuts on his hands and feet and an injury to his side that was caused by a falling wood beam.

Many others were not so lucky, as at least seven died in the building and many suffered serious injuries, while seven remained missing as of 6 p.m. Thursday.

"The gods have really blessed me," Lee said.

He said the first thing he did after he escaped the building was to call his family and tell them he loved them.

When Lee returned to Keelung on Wednesday, he immediately went to a temple to burn incense and worship the gods, he said.

He said he would not dare stay in a high rise in Hualien again because he was traumatized by the earthquake experience.

At least 10 people died in the magnitude 6.0 earthquake, 272 were injured and seven remained unaccounted for in the aftermath, according to the Central Emergency Operation Center, citing data valid as of 6 p.m. Thursday.

All seven of the missing individuals were guests at the Beauty Inn, which occupied the first three floors of the Yun Men Tsui Ti building.

(By Chang Ming-hsuan and Christie Chen)