18 still missing after Taiwan quake

Taiwanese rescuers are looking for 18 people still missing after a 7.2 magnitude earthquake struck the island's mountainous and scenic east coast, as dozens of aftershocks rattled the disaster zone and those trapped were gradually taken to safety.

Wednesday's quake about 8am (local time) in Taiwan's sparsely populated eastern county of Hualien killed 10 people, leaving hundreds of people stranded in a national park as boulders barrelled down mountains, cutting off roads.

Buildings also shuddered violently in Taipei, but the capital suffered minimal damage and disruption.

Taiwan's fire department on Friday put the number of people still missing at 18, including four foreigners previously listed as being Indian, Canadian and Australian whose location it said was unknown.

Another six people are missing on a hiking trail, and a 45-person rescue team is trying to reach them, it added.

Rescuers have confirmed that about 400 people cut off at a luxury hotel in the Taroko Gorge national park are safe, and has been helicoptering in supplies and taking out those injured.

A group of 50 workers who were on their way to the hotel and had been trapped on roads are now mostly safe.

Rescuers assist as a helicopter lifts an injured person on a stretcher Hualien on Thursday. Photo...
Rescuers assist as a helicopter lifts an injured person on a stretcher Hualien on Thursday. Photo: Pingtung Fire Department via Reuters
"I am lucky to survive this disaster. We were terrified, especially when the earthquake first happened, we thought it was all over, all over, all over, because it was an earthquake, right?" said David Chen, 63, a security manager at the hotel, after he was rescued on Thursday.

"As we were leaving, rocks were still falling. We had to navigate through the gaps between the falling rocks, with the search and rescue team upfront," he added.

Chen's 85-year-old mother expressed her relief with tears streaming down her face as they were reunited. For some time, the family did not know if Chen had survived the disaster.

"I was happy to see him. I was happy when he returned. I didn't sleep at all last night and couldn't eat anything," his mother Chen Lan-chih said.

The discovery of a dead body on a hiking trail near the entrance to the gorge took the total deaths to 10.

The agriculture ministry urged people to keep away from the mountains because of the risk of falling rocks and the formation of "barrier lakes" as water pools behind unstable debris.

Around 50 aftershocks rattled Hualien overnight, some felt in the capital Taipei.

Thursday was the start of a long-weekend holiday for the tomb-sweeping festival, when families traditionally return home to attend to ancestral graves, though others will also visit tourist attractions.

Taiwan lies near the junction of two tectonic plates and is prone to earthquakes.

More than 100 people were killed in a quake in southern Taiwan in 2016, while a 7.3 magnitude quake killed more than 2000 people in 1999.