Sunday, July 21, 2024

Couple trapped in tunnel after earthquake

When Ms. Namrata Kohli learned of a missing Singaporean couple at Taroko National Park during a 7.4-magnitude earthquake in Taiwan, she was struck by the realization that it could have been her and her husband.

“It could have been us, I don’t know how it wasn’t us,” said the 39-year-old Employment Pass holder, who has worked at Meta in Singapore for over six years. “I still hope and pray that they are brought out safely.”

The news was particularly shocking as Ms. Namrata and her husband had been trapped in a tunnel at the same national park for 24 hours during Taiwan’s worst earthquake in 25 years, which occurred last Wednesday (Apr 3). The couple had arrived in Taiwan on Mar 29 for a 12-day trip and visited the Shakadang Trail the day before the earthquake, where the Singaporean couple was last seen.

On the day of the quake, Ms. Namrata and her husband drove from Hualien City to the Tunnel of Nine Turns in the park to hike another trail. They parked their car and set off on the short trail. Around 8 am, on their way back, the ground started shaking.

“As the vibration started to gain momentum, both of us just ran,” she said. “We both started to run as fast as we could, but then the rocks started to fall.”

A rock hit her husband in the face, injuring his ear and cheek. They took shelter in a small cave-like structure, with rocks pelting their ankles and knees. When the tremors subsided, they walked 100 meters to their car parked in the tunnel.

Believing they could drive back to Hualien City, they soon realized they were trapped. One end of the tunnel was still being pelted by falling rocks, while the other side was pitch dark and filled with dust and particles from the quake.

“We obviously realized we couldn’t drive anywhere from here, so we just sort of waited … I thought it was (just) the two of us,” she said.

Shortly after, hotel staff from down the road joined them. Despite the language barrier, they communicated enough to understand that the tunnel was the safest place to be.

More stranded hikers joined them as time passed, seeking refuge from the aftershocks and rockfall. Eventually, there were 18 people in the tunnel as night fell. Hunger and thirst became issues since they only had enough food for a hike, like granola bars and a bottle of water.

Thankfully, there was a small guard room at the tunnel’s entrance with a first aid kit and a stove. A security guard there cooked noodles and soup, which they shared. The group also shared water, food, and painkillers, and helped treat Ms. Namrata’s husband’s wound.

“The people of Taiwan … they’re the most calm, kind, considerate people ever … It was just humanity at its best coming together in that moment,” she said.

The next morning, with aftershocks occurring every 30 minutes and rocks still falling, rescuers had not arrived. The trapped hikers had to decide: stay and risk starvation or venture out and risk injury or death from falling rocks.

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