‘We refuse to give up hope’: Families ache for dozens lost in Taiwan quake

Tainan, Taiwan (CNN) — Lin Jianfang was startled awake before dawn on Saturday by violent tremors as a massive earthquake rocked southern Taiwan.

After making sure his wife wasn’t injured, he rushed out of his house to check on his brother’s apartment building.

As he got closer, his heart sank as he took in the stunning sight of the 17-story Weiguan Golden Dragon high-rise tower collapsed in complete ruins.

Nearly four days later, he, along with three generations of his family, continue to camp out in shifts around the clock, hoping for news of his brother, a 41-year-old engineer, who was asleep in the tower when the magnitude-6.4 earthquake hit at 3:57 a.m. on Saturday (February 6).

“We refuse to give up hope,” he said, while clutching his wife’s hands. The couple coughed as building debris wafted through the air.

At least 40 people have been killed in the earthquake, according to Tainan City Disaster Response Center. More than 100 remain missing in Tainan, a normally quiet city of 1.9 million.

Days later, dozens missing in rubble

Some of the people still missing are students who attended the nearby Kunshan University.

A woman named Li has been urgently waiting these last few days for news of her 20-year-old nephew.

“We absolutely will keep waiting — we cannot give up hope, we won’t let our hearts go.”

“We never thought something this terrible could happen to our beloved Tainan, and in the main city area — what are the chances?” Li said tearfully, who refused to give her full name.

The district where Weiguan is located is Tainan’s most densely populated neighborhood, according to city government statistics.

Rescue teams have swarmed the scene, as they continue to dig out the rubble. In between shifts, they rest in a nearby pub. Local restaurants have stayed open to offer food and shelter to family members, while hotels in the area are giving free accommodation to people who have lost their homes.

Emergency medical and military vehicles dot Yongda Road, where the Weiguan Golden Dragon building once stood, in parallel with bright paper lanterns meant to celebrate the usually joyous Chinese New Year holiday.

It’s the biggest annual celebration here, a time for family, friends, laughter and feasts, but there is no festive spirit in the air.

“We are too somber to celebrate the holiday,” said Jerrie Wu, a volunteer, who has been handing snacks and hot drinks to those working on the scene.

Concerns about further collapse

More heavy machinery rolled onto the site Monday night, in preparation for the next phase of the operation — removing debris layer by layer.

Many onlookers are worried that it may cause concrete slabs to collapse, possibly killing any remaining survivors. So far, equipment has propped up the fallen building during early rescue efforts.

“If there are still people breathing in there and they are harmed now after surviving for days, that would be the greatest tragedy,” said Mao Jiecheng, a chef from Taipei.

He rushed down to Tainan, moved to tears after seeing the news, in order to volunteer in relief efforts. He has been preparing food and offering an ear to worried family members awaiting news of loved ones.

But Chen Mei-ling, secretary general of Tainan, said Tuesday morning that no decisions had been made on when the debris will be moved.

Images that have surfaced of tin cans believed to be used in the construction of the tower have caused city residents to speculate about whether the building company cut corners when the highrise went up.

“There are so many other older buildings in Tainan that are still standing — why was it only this building that was completely destroyed?” asked Wang Xingyou, a city cab driver.

Shaking his head woefully, he sighed deeply.

“This is not a happy new year for Tainan.”

First published on money.cnn.com on February 9, 2016