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Hualien policeman who lost home in quake puts mission first

2018/02/09 19:12:07

Photo courtesy of Cheng Po-jen

Taipei, Feb. 9 (CNA) Hualien policeman Cheng Po-jen (鄭博仁) was on duty Tuesday night when a magnitude 6.0 earthquake struck the eastern Taiwan city, causing four buildings to partially collapse including the one in which Cheng lived.

But less than an hour after the earthquake, the policeman who lost his home plunged right back to work and joined in the search for people thought to be in the damaged structures who were unaccounted for.

"When I found out that my Yun Men Tsui Ti (雲門翠堤) building had collapsed, I froze for a few minutes. I was dumbfounded," Cheng told CNA Friday.

But Cheng said he quickly told himself that his building was gone and there was nothing he could do about it, so he might as well channel his energy into helping others.

He was fortunate that he was not at home and that his parents were at their own place at the time of the earthquake, he said, but he still felt a sense of loss because he had just bought the unit in the Yun Men Tsui Ti building six months earlier.

The idea of reconstruction seemed too far away to contemplate, so immediately after the quake, Cheng began to help search for residents and tourists who might have been in the four buildings at time of the earthquake and were unaccounted for.

He made calls, sent messages and tried to match photos on people's ID cards with their Facebook photos.

Although the process was tiring, Cheng said, his heart was filled with happiness whenever he was able to cross off another name from the missing persons list.

He said the people who answered his calls were mostly very friendly and would tell him "Thank you for your hard work," which he said warmed his heart.

"At least no one mistook me for a fraud ring member," he joked.

As of 4 p.m. Friday, at least 12 people had been killed in the Hualien earthquake, and five people thought to be in the Yun Men Tsui Ti building remained unaccounted for, according to official tallies.

Asked what inspired him to become a policeman, Cheng said at first it was because he needed a stable income.

But over his nine years on the job, he has grown to love the job and find a sense of achievement in the smiles of the people he is able to help, Cheng said.

(By You Kai-hsiang and Christie Chen)