Memorial service honors 17 Taiwan quake victims

HUALIEN, Taiwan: The 17 people who died last week after a strong earthquake hit Taiwan’s east coast were honored at a memorial service on Monday, with hundreds of attendees bowing their heads while placing flowers in front of photos of the victims.

Fu Kun-chi, the magistrate of worst-hit Hualien county, spoke at the noon ceremony at a local funeral parlor. Members of the military and police force, religious group volunteers and city workers paid their respects.

Family members sat inside while various officials expressed their condolences. The attendees then stepped into the memorial hall in turn, bowing and placing white flowers before the photos.

The deceased include nine mainland Chinese, one Philippine national and two Canadians, according to Taiwan’s official Central News Agency, or CNA.

The Philippine woman, Melody Albano Castro, was working as a caretaker in Taiwan to save money for a relative’s medical bills.

“Melody is a very loving friend, loving person,” said Vanessa Rodriguez, another caretaker from the Philippines, who attended the memorial service. Rodriguez and Castro were employed by the same agency.

The shallow, magnitude 6.4 quake last Tuesday also injured 291 people after several midsized buildings were left tilting at dangerously sharp angles.

The 12-story Yunmen Tsuiti building, which housed a hotel on its lower floors, where most of the casualties occurred, was still slanted Monday afternoon as it awaited demolition. An excavator was constructing a ramp in front.

“It is dangerous to demolish a building from the bottom,” Chang Chin-fong, president of Taiwan’s Professional Civil Engineers Association, said at the site. “The ramp will manage to stop the building from tilting. So the ramp serves as a security device which also helps machines reach the top.”

Fu, the magistrate, announced the end of search efforts Sunday with the consent of family members, CNA reported. He said the last two victims were trapped under heavy columns that could not be removed without risking the collapse of the entire Yunmen Tsuiti building.

The last bodies that were recovered belonged to members of a five-person family from mainland China, including parents, grandparents and their 12-year-old son.

Hundreds of rescuers had been on the scene. A team from Japan deployed equipment that can detect a heartbeat within a range of 15 meters (49 feet).

An Fengshan, spokesman for the Chinese State Council’s Taiwan Affairs Office, thanked donors in mainland China on Monday for contributions of nearly 21 million yuan ($3.3 million), CNA reported.

“In the face of disaster, humanitarian aid transcends everything,” Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council said in a statement, noting that the council was in continuous communication with the mainland Chinese and Hong Kong governments throughout the crisis.

Taiwan has frequent earthquakes. While most of them are minor, a 1999 quake killed more than 2,300 people and was Taiwan’s worst recent natural disaster.