China - Taiwan Province

Brief report on Taiwan earthquake deployment

Situation Report
Originally published
Following a devastating 7.8 earthquake in Taiwan in the early hours of 21st September (local) early evening 20th September British time, a team from RAPID-UK was put on stand-by.
The request for assistance was received from a Taiwanese official department at 1500 hrs BST on the 21st September and a six member team was mobilised. This mobilisation was in conjunction with RAPID-SPAIN (dog team) and RAPID-TURKEY (rescue team). Due to the fact that the Spanish dog team would be part of the Rapid-UK response our own search dogs were not deployed from quarantine (still in quarantine following the Turkish earthquake).

The team left Heathrow at 2130hrs on the 21st September on a British Airways flight to Hong Kong, unfortunately due to a late train arrival one member missed the flight. On arrival in Hong Kong a China Airlines flight had been arranged for onward movement to Taipei.

The team arrived at 17.30hrs local on 22nd September and was met at the airport by a representative from the Ministry of Affairs who was assigned to the team as an authoritative representative, guide and translator, this proved to be a great asset for the task ahead. The Spanish team and Turkish team who form the overall team would be arriving the next morning. The team from Rapid-UK was deployed immediately to the co-ordination centre in Taiping 3hours drive South.

After a brief from local fire and rescue services the team was deployed to a double 12 floor apartment block in the Fengtuan area of the city. It was reported 17 people still missing, plans were requested and after speaking with relatives and locals it was established that 11 were in fact still unaccounted for. A systematic search of the building commenced throughout the night and the next morning together with Taiwanese rescuers and military personnel using sound location equipment and visual means. Three bodies were located shortly after arrival with a further located the following morning. No signs of life were established within this building.

The team was moved to another site in the centre on Taiping during the afternoon, the building, a 16 floor apartment block was of new construction and had lost the bottom two floors into the basement, with the rest of the building leaning into an adjoining building. It was confirmed that three people were still unaccounted for. The Russian rescue team EMERCOM were searching one part of the building for a family of two, the third person was found shortly after our arrival. The team stood by for the afternoon to assist if required.

The team was then deployed to the main co-ordination centre in Tai Chung centered at the athletics stadium. Two members were requested to go to Nantau the epicentre for the earthquake and report back on their findings to the co-ordination centre. The Rapid members together with the local fire chief carried out a check on those buildings that had not been searched in Nantau, three 8 floor apartment blocks that had lost the bottom floor and suffered some internal failings. No persons were unaccounted for although 647 buildings had been damaged in this area. A report was given to the co-ordination centre, which concluded that no further rescue teams were required to be sent to that particular area.

However this town still did not have electricity and communications. The team from Rapid-Spain had now arrived and linked up with the team from UK. After a meeting with the military chief and co-ordination centre they agree to provide a helicopter the following morning to take us to the more remote areas, unfortunately we were requested to go and help with a search in the town of Kuoshin. This was 2 hours drive away and turned out to be a wasted journey as two international search teams with dogs had already been to this area and cleared any collapsed buildings. The joint UK and Spain team was then re-deployed to the town of Donshu arriving there at approximately 0300. Two large 14 floor joined apartment blocks had collapsed onto their side. The Russian EMERCOM team had set up their main base close by and had been working on this site for two days.

A meeting was held with the site co-ordinator, EMERCOM, military, local rescue workers and Rapid-UK with a plan of action drawn up. The combined Rapid team would carry out a search of the building using dogs and visual to confirm what the Russians thought that there were no more survivors. This search was carried out over the next two hours with no signs of life found. Two more bodies were located by the Russians and it was decide by the site co-ordinator that this would now be a recovery task.

Team requested by main co-ordination centre to go back to the large apartment block in the centre of Taiping. Upon arrival and after consultation with the Chinese team it was decided that no further search work would be carried out on this site. The Turkish team have now arrived on site giving us a twenty strong capability with four search dogs. The whole team is re-deployed to Yuanlin 2 hours drive away. The building to be searched consisted of three attached apartments in the shape of a V that had collapsed onto an identical building behind. Several people were still missing within the bottom six floors that had been crushed when the building left the ground. A map was requested and with the local rescue workers and another Spanish team we plotted the location of the apartments where people were known to be missing. Block H became the responsibility of the combined Rapid team. The team spent all night and the following morning searching this area , through several tunnels, from the sides and from the basement below. No signs of life were found in this area and due to the odour it was decided that this person was already dead.

The chief fire officer from the area visited the site and decided that the building must come down due to it being so unstable. The combined team was then moved to the village of Khoshir which had 40 people missing from a land slide. From the information given, as the combined team leader I felt this was a lost cause, however they were keen for us to visit the site and give our opinion.

On arrival it was evident that no one could possibly survive a landslide of this size, therefore the team departed. As the teams were due to fly out on Sunday evening the official with the team decided to go to a hotel in an unaffected area of Tai-chung. To allow the team to wash and get some rest. The team arrived back at 2200 hrs and made itself available for any further requests.

At 0750 on Sunday morning a 6.8 aftershock struck, the team was immediately deployed 40 minutes drive away to a 10 floor apartment that had collapsed. On arrival the team deployed to the far side of the building and started a systematic search. The Korean team already in attendance were pulling the building apart. The building was now on fire and the Rapid teams were now withdrawn. Several attempts were made to speak with the Korean team leader to formulate a plan on action, the first being to put out the fires otherwise nobody will survive, these attempts failed with him refusing to listen to the Rapid team leader, or the Mexican and Russian team leaders. After one hour of searching the Rapid team withdrew from this site due to the dangerous way in which the situation was being handled.

The teams departed Taipei late Sunday evening via Hong Kong.