Death toll hits 15 in Taiwan earthquake as rescue dogs search the rubble

World Today

Death toll hits 15 in Taiwan earthquake as rescue dogs search the rubble

Hopes are fading of finding any more survivors of Taiwan’s earthquake. At least 15 bodies have been found in the rubble of Tuesday’s tremor. 

Among them – the body of a 12-year-old boy. The tragedy comes as the city is preparing to mark the beginning of a new year – the Year of the Dog.

CGTN’s Tony Cheng reports on some dogs that are proving to be the rescuers’ best friends.

On the main road into Hualien sits a huge golden statue for the celebration of the Chinese New Year–the Year of the Dog. But in this city, recently hit by disaster, the celebration is more than simply symbolic.

Just down the road, Tang Tang and Joy are heading into the danger zone with their handlers.  These K-9 search and rescue teams are a vital part of the effort to find survivors–and bodies–in the aftermath of the Hualien earthquake.

Both dogs are less than two-years-old, so this is a vital test. But both are showing they’re up to the task.

“Over the last two days, we’ve taken them around this area,” handler Lee Chi Yen of the Taiwan Elite International Rescue Association said. “We saw that, in spite of the excitement, they were focused. They weren’t scared.”

That test of temperament has been essential in this disaster, with several buildings so badly damaged that human access has been impossible.

One of the challenges for the search and rescue teams in this disaster is being to access collapsed high-rises. This is where the K-9 teams have been most valuable.

Handlers managed to get their dogs inside the into narrow crevices to detect whether anyone is still alive. Earlier in the week another K-9, Iron Hero, helped locate a survivor on the ground floor of the Marshall hotel.

With their highly tuned sense of smell and hearing, dogs can not only detect the presence of bodies, but with specially-trained barks, they can tell their handlers whether the victim is still breathing.

Their noses are very sensitive,” said Chao Yen Fen of the Taiwan Elite International Rescue Association. “They can find victims and then tell us whether they’re breathing or not. They can tell us whether they’re alive or dead.”

This K-9 team is comprised of four dogs. The senior members of the team, Kala and Sunny, seem happy to let the youngsters take the lead.

But Kala in particular has had his share of action. He became a celebrity in Taiwan after he pictures showed him exhausted in the aftermath of a gas explosion several years ago. Now, he now has more than 50,000 followers on his Facebook page.

The human team, entirely comprised of volunteers, is also well equipped for rescue work. But in this sort of disaster, when time is of the essence, dogs are often the faster than bulky equipment.

Chu Xing-zhong, Sec-Gen, Taiwan Elite International Rescue Association “This earthquake has had many aftershocks, and we can only go in when the aftershocks stop,” said Chu Xing-zhong, Secretary-General of the Taiwan Elite International Rescue Association.

“We only have a very brief opportunity.”

When they’re not working, Tang Tang and Joy live with their handlers, in order to cement the bond between them. They clearly lift the spirits of the rescue teams who’ve been working round the clock. On the eve of the year of the dog, they’ve proved once again that they’re man’s best friend.

Status of rescue effort after Taiwan earthquake