Sat, Sep 25, 1999 - Page 1 News List

Hoping against the odds

LAST GASP Though it seems highly unlikely that any more survivors will be found after a young boy was pulled from the rubble in Taichung County, faint hope was held out for his baby sister as relief efforts continue around the clock


The Mid-Autumn Festival, which takes place on the first full moon of the eighth month on the lunar calendar, is traditionally a day for happy family reunions. Last night, however, the big, bright moon that hung over Taiwan may well have brought more pain than anything else to the relatives of victims of Tuesday's earthquake. And, despite the heartwarming story of a six-year-old boy's rescue yesterday, serious shortcomings are being exposed in the government's efforts to offer them relief for their misery and discomfort.

Morale was raised temporarily yesterday in the town of Dali, Taichung County, as Chang Ching-hung (張景閎), a 6-year-old boy, was pulled from a wrecked apartment building under which he and his family had been buried for 88 hours. He was rushed to a hospital in stable condition, though suffering from trauma and severe dehydration.

A crew of South Koreans, assisted by Japanese experts, had toiled for six hours yesterday, using their bare hands to pry a thirsty Chang loose.

``I need water. Why am I here, and where are my parents?'' were his first words to rescuers, according to the Korean team leader Choi Jin Jong.

There was no word on the fate of his parents, but shortly before going to press it was announced that a scanner had picked up life signs from one of his two sisters still buried in the rubble, four-month-old Chang Yu-ching (張榆晴).

It was enough to ensure that rescue operations be extended in the county as Liao Yung-lai (廖永來), the county's commissioner, increased the deadline from 72 hours to 100 hours. Foreign rescue teams suggested extending the deadline as they feel there is still hope to find survivors. This would allow rescue operations to last until 6am today, after which heavy machinery will be used to move through the wreckage.

The casualties

* Fatalities: 2,191

* Injuries: 8,543

* Trapped: 291

* Missing: 33

The Disaster Management Center said yesterday that 2,191 people had been killed, 8,543 were injured, 291 trapped under rubble and 33 were still missing.

The official number of trapped stood in glaring contrast to media reports, often quoting on-site rescue workers, which said hund-reds, if not more, victims were still buried under collapsed buildings and landslides.

``We don't know how many more will be coming,'' said a morgue official, Hong Hong-yu. ``They've just started digging in many places in Taichung County, so there will be more.''

In urban areas, more rescue teams were giving up hope of finding any survivors in the wrecked hulks of buildings and were planning to use cranes to clear chunks of concrete and other rubble.

Amid allegations that shoddy construction work was to blame for many deaths, prosecutors in the Panchiao District Prosecutors' Office yesterday detained the owner of a construction company that built the "Professor's Home" (博士的家) residential building in Taipei County's Hsinchuang City, which collapsed during the earthquake.

Meanwhile, the Taichung Prosecutors' Office yesterday barred the owners of at least ten construction companies from leaving the country. The companies are responsible for collapsed buildings in Taichung City and County.

The owners may face charges under public safety laws if shoddy construction work is proven on their buildings.

More than 80 hours into the crisis, the focus began to shift yesterday from rescue to rehabilitation of homeless survivors, estimated in the hundreds of thousands.

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