Taipei (AFP) – Rescuers Sunday ended their search of a Taiwan building partially toppled by a 6.4-magnitude earthquake as the last trapped pair were presumed dead, bringing the final death toll to 17.
Thousands of emergency workers had combed through rubble at the foot of the 12-storey Yun Tsui apartment block since the quake struck the eastern city of Hualien late Tuesday.
It was left leaning at around a 50-degree angle by the quake, complicating rescue efforts due to fears of an imminent collapse.
Hualien mayor Fu Kun-chi said the last two victims were pinned under heavy pillars that could not be removed without risking a total collapse of the building, and the rescue was called off with the consent of their relatives.
Excavators began digging through the building from the top later Sunday to try to recover the bodies, he added
“Seventeen people were unfortunately killed in the earthquake … I believe their relatives will receive proper assistance,” Premier William Lai said while paying his respects to victims in Hualien Sunday.
The last pair are believed to be members of a family from Beijing who arrived in Taiwan on Monday, authorities said. The bodies of three other members of the family including a boy aged 12 were recovered Saturday.
They were staying in a second-floor room at a hotel in the Yun Tsui building when the quake struck.
Fourteen of the 17 people who were killed perished in the building.
Three partially collapsed buildings in Hualien are being demolished, including the local landmark Marshal Hotel where one employee was killed.
Hualien, on Taiwan’s picturesque east coast, is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the quake-probe island.
Taiwan’s worst tremor in recent decades was a 7.6-magnitude quake in September 1999 that killed around 2,400 people.
That quake ushered in stricter building codes but many of Taiwan’s older buildings remain perilously vulnerable to even moderate tremors.