Tainan Earthquake: News from the Front

By Sean Kaiteri

My love affair with Taiwan has been reconfirmed… Old Taiwan may possibly have dropped the ball, Mother Nature exasperated the problem, but New Taiwan certainly has hit those issues for six or hit the ball well the f&*#k out of the park for a touch down:) Mixed metaphors aside, Taiwan and your citizens, YOU ROCK!

To be clear, I’m not a journalist, a reporter, a videographer, an emergency volunteer, nor especially a rescue worker.

However for the last couple of days I have witnessed all these fine professionals and countless other support staff come together in the most cohesive way one could possibly ever hope for, and when one is caught up in a disaster.

So all I can do is share that experience.

The first thing upon arriving in the zone is that we are damn near killed with kindness and help, in the most positive and overwhelming way, from the 70 odd immediately visible and quite present Tzu Chi foundation volunteers who quickly orientate us onto “What Is Going On!” and the fact that anything that we, or anyone of the growing 1000 + genuine emergency personnel and media staff, need from them will quickly appear if it is not right there anyways.

We hook up with our contact person. A veteran local journalist who has well been “In Country” for every major event that Taiwan has faced down for the past 30 odd years, he is aptly named Lucky.

Lucky introduces and guides us to all the places we can go and can’t go and thankfully mentions to all the right guards, military police and other assorted security folk that we are with him and for them to afford us free passes to move freely as we require.

In the whole trip, we were only denied access twice. mostly for our safety. due to heavy equipment that was doing its duty at that point in time.

Right on sundown, and this is where it gets a little rough. Tobie and I are told to return to a vantage point. A recovery is about to happen. We sadly learn the difference between recovery and rescue and in fact. a recovery means a little girl of 7 years old will not be greeting her relatives and wishing them a happy new year.

A sky crane has dropped a cage into the center of the fallen building. What at first, we naively think is a large map or a blue print of the building is placed out in an obscured corner of the remaining structure.

Yeah… It’s not… It’s a Body Bag…

The mood changes…

A crane lifts the body of a victim of Taiwan's earthquake February 7, 2016
At dusk February 7, 2016, a body is recovered from the rubble of a 17 storey building that collapsed in an earthquake that struck southern Taiwan before dawn February 6. Photo Credit: Lucky

Media settle down, Military clear the area and form two lines; each soldier holding hands with the other…

The onsite Rescue Team hold their positions and the child is passed, with the greatest care, through capable hands to the waiting lift.

A white dove appears out of nowhere, flies up and circles the building and flies off into the sunset.

Two men protect the child as she is lifted out and returned to solid ground. There, the attentive and compassionate ground crew bring her to waiting stretcher. Spontaneously it seems, everyone in unison moves back a pace, stands to attention, raises their hand to their brow and solemnly salutes out their own personal grief and respect to the fallen child and her parents.

The sun has gone down and powerful LED lights have only increased the vision over every corner of the collapsed building. Everyone is patiently waiting for news from what is going on inside. A crew, of about 30, obviously highly trained rescuers fully kitted out stand by waiting for an impending shift change. Their mood is serious but light, they are ready to do what they are trained to do.

The shift changes in an remarkably orderly fashion. The tireless rescue workers walk out in a line, and the fresh crew walk in with subtle exchanges and knowing looks to pick up exactly what and where was left off.

Whispers are passed: there is still hope of rescue….

I can’t write anymore right now other than to say, a community has been built around this stricken building, a community of the most capable and caring teams and individuals you could ever want to look for you or have beside you when the shit goes down.

I have never felt more safe in my life.


A survivor of the earthquake is ferried to a waiting ambulance
A survivor of the February 6 earthquake in Tainan, Taiwan is put into an ambulance after being pulled out of the rubble, February 8, 2016. Photo Credit: Tobie Openshaw.

A view of the rescue and recovery site February 9, 2016, after the earthquake February 6.
After several days of using power tools and bare hands to reach survivors, heavy machinery is being used to attempt to reach survivors trapped at deeper levels of the buildings that collapsed in the earthquake of February 6, 2016. Photo Credit: Tobie Openshaw.

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