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Buildings badly hit by Taiwan quake structurally weak: local experts

Japanese searchers, front, meet with local rescue workers at the Yunmen Cuidi building in Hualien, Taiwan, on Feb. 8, 2018. (Mainichi)

HUALIEN, Taiwan -- Three of the four buildings left listing badly by the Feb. 6 earthquake here likely had lower-floor designs too weak to withstand the temblor, local experts have suggested.

According to local authorities, at least 10 people were killed, 272 people injured and seven people remain missing as a result of the magnitude 6.4 earthquake, which hit off the Taiwanese coast. The search for the missing continues, with rescuers racing to find survivors before 72 hours have passed since the quake -- the point when the probability of survival drops considerably.

Speaking to Taiwanese media, experts have pointed out that a fault line close to the buildings has triggered several major earthquakes over the past few decades. The experts also commented that the designs of three of the four worst-hit buildings, which had few walls and pillars on their lower levels to make space for businesses, had made them structurally vulnerable to the temblor.

The four structures are all listing drastically, but the most badly affected was the Yunmen Cuidi building, which contains apartments as well as lodgings and has been left at an about 30-degree tilt. Authorities believe there may be some visitors who cannot be contacted still trapped inside the building.

Seven experts dispatched by Japan, including those from the Tokyo Fire Department and the Japan Coast Guard, arrived in Hualien on Feb. 8 to assist with search and rescue operations, made difficult by aftershocks. The team has brought advanced search equipment using electromagnetic waves.

Although the Taiwanese authorities plan to conduct the rescue operation independently, the office of the president has stated, "The support from Japan, which includes the provision of sophisticated search equipment, will help lead to the speedy discovery of missing people." Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen also expressed her gratitude to Japan when she visited the scene.

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