Taiwan earthquake: 'The walls were crumbling'

6:05 am on 5 April 2024

By Joy Chang and Rupert Wingfield-Hayes, BBC News in Hualien

This photo taken by Taiwan's Central News Agency (CNA) on April 3, 2024 shows the damaged Uranus Building in Hualien, after a major earthquake hit Taiwan's east. A major 7.4-magnitude earthquake hit Taiwan's east on the morning of April 3, prompting tsunami warnings for the self-ruled island as well as parts of southern Japan and the Philippines. (Photo by CNA / AFP) / Taiwan OUT - China OUT - Macau OUT / Hong Kong OUT RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE

The Uranus Building is tilted over and rescue workers are attempting to shore up the 10-storey structure. Photo: CNA / AFP

Chang Hsin had just woken up in the Taiwanese city of Hualien on Tuesday when her entire block started shaking.

"The walls were crumbling. Shortly after, another quake hit, causing the entire house to tilt," the 59-year-old told the BBC.

Chang was in her third floor apartment when the 7.4 magnitude earthquake hit, which killed nine people and left more than 1000 injured in Taiwan's worst earthquake in 25 years.

Images of Chang's Uranus Building apartment block have been shared across the world. The building is tilted over and rescue workers are attempting to shore up the 10-storey structure, to prevent it from falling over.

After the shaking finished Chang started screaming for help, and then saw a fire engine outside.

"I urged them to hurry. I kept yelling 'quickly, quickly or the next aftershock is coming,'" she recalled.

"The house started to tilt while I was still inside," she said. "My legs were shaking, and I couldn't stand steady. I still can't calm down, especially with the aftershocks last night."

Local reports said one female teacher died in the building when she returned to rescue her cat.

Chang was speaking to the BBC from a shelter for people affected by the earthquake. Sitting next to her was Wei Pang-Huan, 60, who lived on the fifth floor of the Uranus Building.

The block was due to be demolished on Friday, and Wei was unsure if she would be able to collect any of her belongings.

"All my belongings are in the building. I wonder if I could go inside to retrieve some important items, but it depends on the rescue team's instructions," she said.

Rescuers in Taiwan were working to reach more than 600 people stranded after the earthquake hit the eastern county of Hualien.

Some stuck in tunnels and near a national park have been rescued by helicopters, but 34 were still missing.

Rocks blocking part of the road on a section of a highway in Taichung, after a major earthquake hit Taiwan's east on 3 April, 2024.

Rocks blocking part of the road on a section of a highway in Taichung, after a major earthquake hit Taiwan's east on 3 April, 2024. Photo: Handout / Taichung City Government's Fire Bureau / AFP

One Singaporean woman, who was stuck in the mountains for a day and half, said "it's your worst nightmare coming true".

"It's like they show in the movies. You never think you're going to experience something like that," she told the BBC.

"We felt the earth tremble and we just held on to each other. He was hit by some stones and we just hung on to each other for I don't know how long until it passed," she added.

"It was a terrible, terrible experience with aftershocks and tremors and rocks falling every few minutes."

She eventually made it to a hotel, where she received first aid.

Evacuees come into temporary shelters in Hualien on April 4, 2024. The Eastern Taiwan earthquake that occurred on the previous day was the strongest in 25 years. According to Taiwan Authorities, 9 people died and no less than 1,000 people were injured.( The Yomiuri Shimbun ) (Photo by Ichiro Ohara / Yomiuri / The Yomiuri Shimbun via AFP)

Temporary shelters in Hualien. Photo: AFP / Ichiro Ohara

The earthquake, which struck 18 kilometres south of Hualien, was followed by more than 200 aftershocks, dozens of which were at least 6.5 magnitude or more, hindering search and rescue efforts. Taiwanese authorities expect there to be more aftershocks in the next few days.

Lai Su has lived at the bottom of a landmark gorge, just outside Hualien, for 35 years. She said Tuesday's earthquake was like nothing she has ever experienced.

"At the time I was in Hualien driving my car and the car began to move like it was dancing," she told the BBC.

"Usually when there is a quake at night and we are sleeping, we can't be bothered to get out of bed, but this time I would definitely have jumped out of bed and run."

For Chang, her immediate future in Hualien city was looking uncertain.

"I can only stay in the shelter now as I don't have a place to stay. I will go to work during the day and return to stay at night."

Additional reporting by Huiyee Chiew, Tzu-Wei Liu and Joy Chang Yu-Tzu

This story was first published by the BBC.

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