Two Australians missing as Taiwanese rescuers try to reach scores trapped in tunnels after quake

Two Australians missing as Taiwanese rescuers try to reach scores trapped in tunnels after quake
  • PublishedApril 5, 2024

Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry confirmed two Australians are among the missing, as Taiwan’s rescue workers continue to look for survivors and trapped individuals following the island’s biggest earthquake in a quarter of a century.

Neo Siew Choo and Sim Hwee Kok were identified by the Taiwanese ministry as the two missing Australians.

The Hualien Fire Department also confirmed the missing person’s names, adding they were “Singaporean with Australian passports”. It did not answer further questions, stating investigations were ongoing.

“The Australian Office in Taipei is making urgent enquiries with local authorities to confirm their welfare,”  an Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade spokesperson said. 

The Taiwan government said in an earlier statement that 71 foreigners including two Australians had been rescued, but two Australians and a Canadian were unaccounted for.

More than 600 people are reported as trapped and at least 38 are missing, according to authorities. 

Dozens were trapped in a network of strongly built tunnels in the Hulien county, near the epicentre of the magnitude-7.2 quake.

Hundreds of others were holding out at a luxury hotel and youth activity centre near the Taroko National Park, with roads leading to both locations blocked by landslides.

After the earthquake, hundreds of aftershocks struck Taiwan’s eastern region, driving scores to seek shelter outdoors.

The national disaster agency said 10 people had been killed and 1,099 injured in the quake.

Helicopter rescues stranded people

On Thursday, a helicopter ferried to safety six miners trapped on a cliff in a dramatic rescue after the quake cut off the roads into Hualien’s soaring mountains, in footage shown by the fire department.

Authorities initially lost contact with 50 hotel employees headed to a resort in the Taroko Gorge National Park in minibuses.

The workers have now been located by rescuers. 

Rescuers also reached the same hotel in the gorge, cut-off by the quake, by helicopter and established all 400 people there were safe.

The fire department said work would continue in the morning to re-open the road.

taiwan quake
Rescue workers reached some stranded individuals, while hundreds more remain trapped. (AP: Chiang Ying-ying)

The latest casualty, a 65-year-old man, was found on a hiking trail in Hualien county on Thursday afternoon.

Rescue workers deployed ropes to move the body on the uneven terrain filled with jagged rocks, according to footage released by officials.

Of the 10 dead, at least four were killed inside Taroko National Park, a tourist attraction famous for canyons and cliffs in mountainous Hualien about 150 kilometres from Taipei. 

The island has been shaken by hundreds of strong aftershocks since the first quake, and the government warned people to be wary of landslides or rockfalls if they ventured to the countryside for Qingming, a two-day public holiday that began on Thursday.

Families traditionally visit the tombs of their ancestors on the holiday to clean the gravesites and burn offerings.

“Do not go to the mountains unless necessary,” warned President Tsai Ing-wen.

Aftershock continues 

In Hualien, a glass-fronted building named Uranus — now tilting at a 45-degree angle after half of its first floor pancaked — has become something of a symbol of the quake.

More than 100 people chose to sleep in tents at a shelter set up in an elementary school as the aftershocks continued.

“Our worry is when the big aftershocks happen it might be really hard for us to evacuate one more time — especially with the baby,” said Indonesian Hendri Sutrisno, 30, a professor at Donghua University.

A man rests at a temporary reception center.
Many people are sleeping in temporary shelters amid fears of aftershocks.(Reuters: Tyrone Siu)

He and his wife hid under a table with their infant when the earthquake struck, before fleeing their apartment.

“We have all the necessary stuff, blankets, toilet and a place to rest,” he said.

The Central Weather Administration recorded more than 400 aftershocks from Wednesday morning into Thursday night. 

Wednesday’s quake was the most severe since 1999, when Taiwan was hit by a magnitude-7.6 temblor.

It killed 2,400 people, the deadliest natural disaster in the island’s history.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *