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Earthquake survivor's horrifying account: Rocks falling like bullets

04/05/2024 05:41 PM
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Machineries are damaged in a Hualien site after the earthquake on Wednesday. Photo courtesy of Wang Ming-chuang
Machineries are damaged in a Hualien site after the earthquake on Wednesday. Photo courtesy of Wang Ming-chuang

Hualien, April 5 (CNA) When Wang Ming-chuang (王明窻) left to do a job in a mining area in Hualien County early Wednesday morning, he did not expect to witness someone being buried alive and find himself trapped there for over 24 hours.

"Large and small rocks fell from the sky, like a hail of bullets," the 64-year-old Wang said, recalling his desperation after a magnitude 7.2 earthquake struck off the coast of Hualien County at 7:58 a.m. Wednesday and triggered massive rockslides.

"All I could do was to keep running [away], and I narrowly managed to escape the falling rocks when I reached the edge of the cliff," he told CNA after being rescued by the National Airborne Service Corps. on Thursday morning.

Wang Ming-chuang sits behind the protection of sandbags. Photo courtesy of Wang Ming-chuang
Wang Ming-chuang sits behind the protection of sandbags. Photo courtesy of Wang Ming-chuang

It was a sleepless night for Wang, as he saw a worker in the mining area unable to flee in time and buried beneath the rubble.

He did not dare to try and rescue the buried worker, Wang said, and many younger workers were so frightened that they burst into tears.

According to Wang, he and his colleagues were contracted to do a one-day greening project at a site in the Ho Jen mining area in Hualien's Xiulin Township, where other contractors were also working on other projects.

Upon realizing that the only road out was blocked by rubble, Wang said he and six other workers decided to pile up stacks of sandbags in a circle for shelter and to call for help.

The ground seemed to never stop shaking and rocks kept falling all the time, Wang said of the intensive aftershocks that occurred throughout his restless night.

Their ordeal eventually came to an end after the National Airborne Service Corps. located Wang and the other trapped workers and dispatched Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters to bring them back to safety in batches.

According to the Hualien County Fire Department, a total of 17 people trapped in the Ho Jen mining area had been rescued as of Thursday morning.

The body of the one worker killed as a result of the earthquake -- the biggest one in Taiwan in a quarter of a century -- was also retrieved from the site, the department said.

Wang and the others were not the only ones who barely dodged death in the Hualien mountains.

Rocks fall in a Hualien mining site after the earthquake on Wednesday. Photo courtesy of Wang Ming-chuang
Rocks fall in a Hualien mining site after the earthquake on Wednesday. Photo courtesy of Wang Ming-chuang

An employee of five-star hotel Silks Place Taroko, surnamed Chiu (邱), said she and 34 other colleagues were stuck in a half-open tunnel after the three shuttle buses they were on tried to dodge falling rocks shaken free by the earthquake.

The hotel is located in Taroko Gorge, a popular tourist destination near the Tianxiang Recreation Area that is served by only one road, Provincial Highway No. 8.

It was blocked by rockslides and landslides in both directions, forcing the three buses to take refuge in the tunnel. Chiu's was the only one that took a direct hit.

Employees of five-star hotel Silks Place Taroko are geared up and awaiting rescue inside a tunnel in front of their totaled shuttle bus. Photo courtesy of a private contributor
Employees of five-star hotel Silks Place Taroko are geared up and awaiting rescue inside a tunnel in front of their totaled shuttle bus. Photo courtesy of a private contributor

She recalled that shortly after the strong quake occurred, she saw rocks falling on the road and that before she could react, a rock had hit her bus, smashing in the back end of the bus' roof and causing the front half to buckle upwards.

"Everything was pitch black," Chiu told CNA of that moment, after being rescued on Thursday, adding that she was almost driven to tears until a colleague managed to calm her down.

The group was unable to get help due to a lack of mobile service, and it was not until they were located by a drone dispatched by the Highway Bureau on Thursday that rescue teams rushed to the site.

A shuttle bus of five-star hotel Silks Place Taroko is destroyed after being hit by a rock. Photo courtesy of a private contributor
A shuttle bus of five-star hotel Silks Place Taroko is destroyed after being hit by a rock. Photo courtesy of a private contributor

The hotel workers, including one who was seriously injured and two others with minor injuries, were rescued one after another after the rescue teams removed rubble outside the tunnel with a bulldozer.

That enabled the stranded workers to walk a short distance out of the tunnel and down the road, where transportation was waiting to take them out of the gorge.

"At one point, I thought we were all going to die," Chiu said of being stuck in the tunnel, apparently still frightened. "I will never go up into the mountain again!"

(By Chang Chi and Teng Pei-ju)

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Update

April 5

● Japan pledges US$1 million donation to earthquake-hit Taiwan

● 2 people missing on Shakadang Trail in Taroko Gorge found dead

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● Multiple countries offer support for Taiwan after Hualien earthquake

● Nine dead, over 1,000 injured as earthquake rescue operations continue

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● Major earthquake shakes Taiwan, causing landslides, partial building collapse

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