Two Chinese tourists missing since a magnitude 6.o earthquake hit the nation on Tuesday last week were confirmed dead yesterday, Hualien County Commissioner Fu Kun-chi (傅崐萁) said, raising the quake’s death toll to 17.
The pair were members of a family that had checked into the Beauty Inn (漂亮生活旅店) in the Yun Men Tsui Ti (雲門翠堤) building.
Fu’s announcement came after authorities called off further search efforts in the building at about 10am, 106 hours after the earthquake shook Hualien city and county, as well as a wide swathe of northern Taiwan and the east coast.
A group of search-and-rescue personnel bowed in front of the building, one of four that partly collapsed in the city, as a mark of respect before teams withdrew from the site to allow heavy machinery to start razing the complex.
According to the county government, the two Chinese tourists had a room on the hotel’s second floor.
Three other family members were found on Saturday, when rescuers expanded the search area by excavating from the fourth floor down to the second.
Fu confirmed that the pair’s bodies were found at about 4am yesterday, but rescuers had not been able to remove them from the debris because they were under a fallen girder.
“Removing the girder would cause the rest of the building to collapse,” Fu said.
The county government eventually decided that rescuers using machinery should start removing one floor of the building at a time, starting from the top, until they reach the ground and can remove the girder, he said.
The decision was made after consultation with members of the Chinese Union of Professional Civil Engineers Association and other experts, Fu said, adding that the goal was to be able to remove the bodies in their entirety.
Family members of the victims had also consented to the arrangement, Fu said.
However, before work crews can begin removing the floors, prosecutors and criminal investigation experts must inspect each floor for materials and possible evidence in case charges are later filed over the building’s collapse.
Authorities are also planning to raze the three other buildings that partly collapsed or tilted after the quake — the Marshal Hotel (統帥飯店) and two apartment buildings on Guosheng 6th Street — as they are a threat to the safety of neighborhood residents, Fu said.
The goal is to have all four razed by Friday, the second day of the Lunar New Year holiday, Fu said, adding that the time needed to remove these buildings would also depend on the progress prosecutors make in their search of the building.
Removal work would continue around the clock during the holiday, he said.
In related news, a magnitude 4.2 quake struck at 3:39pm yesterday, with Yenliao Village (鹽寮) in Hualien County’s Shoufeng Township (壽豐) registering a 5 on Taiwan’s seven-tier intensity scale, according to the Central Weather Bureau.
The hypocenter of the quake was 8km south-southwest of Hualien County Hall, at a depth of 15.4km, the bureau said.
Additional reporting by CNA
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