As It Happens

Eyewitness describes deadly earthquake that toppled buildings in Taiwan

Zeena Starbuck was writing in bed in a Taiwanese hostel on Tuesday night when a magnitude 6.4 earthquake struck the coastal city of Hualien.
A police officer stands guard outside a damaged building after an earthquake hit Hualien, Taiwan. (Tyrone Siu/Reuters)

Story transcript

Zeena Starbuck was writing in bed in a Taiwanese hostel on Tuesday night when a magnitude 6.4 earthquake struck the coastal city of Hualien.

"The beds were just shaking and shaking, for too long, you know?" she said. "You could hear things crashing and falling."

The earthquake struck shortly before midnight about 22 kilometres northeast of Hualien, a popular tourist destination and home to about 100,000 people. At least six people were killed and dozens are still missing. More than 250 were injured.

Rescue personnel search a collapsed building in the coastal city. (Tyrone Siu/Reuters)

Starbuck is originally from the U.K., but works in Hangzhou, China, as an English teacher. She's been travelling in Taiwan and was one of about 15 people in the hostel when the quake struck.

"There was like a moment of calm where we all kind of went onto the floor and were like, 'What do we do now?' Then we heard people shouting, 'Go outside, go outside, go to the roads!'"

They all ran downstairs, she said, where they had to pry the hostel doors open.

"We couldn't even open the door because all these motorcycles had fallen over," she said.

"And then we saw in our hostel all the shelves had fallen over, the books were off the walls, and everything was just, like, broken."

The view from the hostel where Zeena Starbuck was staying, just down the street from the collapsed Marshal Hotel in Hualien. (Submitted by Zeena Starbuck)

The travellers managed to get out onto the road, which Starbuck said was filled with panicked people. Several aftershocks caused the streets to shake.

"Maybe a few minutes later, people started to realize one of the buildings down the road had completely gone on its side and part of it had collapsed," she said.

"It was just like, whoa, this is actually a big thing. This isn't a shake. It's a proper earthquake."

The building is the Marshall Hotel, which the government said toppled with several people still trapped inside. 

Starbuck said she saw soldiers, police officers and ambulances rush to the scene by car, motorcycle and helicopter. She watched as rescuers pulled people from the collapsed hotel.

She couldn't say for sure whether anyone was left inside. 

At least four other buildings, including two hotels and a military hospital, also tilted, Reuters reports. 

As the aftershocks wind down, Starbuck and her fellow travellers are back in the hostel and doing fine, she said.

"I'm OK. I'm a little tired and a little scared," she said. "Everyone is OK."

Panic in streets after major earthquake rocks region 0:46