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Helicopter rescues Taiwan miners, stranded hotel guests confirmed safe

Helicopter rescues Taiwan miners, stranded hotel guests confirmed safe

By Yimou Lee and Fabian Hamacher

HUALIEN, Taiwan (Reuters) -A helicopter plucked to safety on Thursday six people stranded in a mining area after Taiwan's worst earthquake in 25 years, and rescue workers reached 400 people cut off in a hotel in a mountainous national park by air, and confirmed all were safe.

Hundreds of aftershocks struck Taiwan's eastern region, driving scores to seek shelter outdoors, as the death toll from Wednesday's 7.2-magnitude quake rose to 10, with the tally of injured at 1,099, authorities said.

A helicopter ferried to safety six miners trapped on a cliff in a dramatic rescue after the quake cut off the roads into Hualien's soaring mountains, in footage shown by the department.

The department said four foreigners remained unaccounted for - one Canadian, one Indian and two Australians.

Rescue workers located most of the roughly 50 hotel workers marooned on a highway as they headed to a resort in the Taroko Gorge national park.

They also reached the same hotel in the gorge, cut-off by the quake, by helicopter and established all 400 people there were safe. The fire department said work would continue in the morning to re-open the road.

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

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.

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.

People in largely rural and sparsely populated Hualien county were readying to go to work and school when the earthquake struck offshore on Wednesday.

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

TERRIFYING AFTERSHOCKS

All those trapped in buildings in the worst-hit city of Hualien have been rescued, but many residents unnerved by more than 300 aftershocks spent the night outdoors.

"The aftershocks were terrifying," said Yu, a 52-year-old woman, who gave only her family name. "It's non-stop. I do not dare to sleep in the house."

Too scared to return to her apartment, which she described as being in a "mess", she slept in a tent on a sports ground being used for temporary shelter.

Dozens of residents queued outside one badly damaged 10-storey building, waiting to go in and retrieve belongings.

Clad in helmets and accompanied by government personnel, each was given 10 minutes to collect valuables in huge garbage bags, though some saved time by throwing items out of windows into the street below.

"This building is no longer liveable," said Tian Liang-si, who lived on the fifth floor, as she scrambled to gather her laptop, family photographs and other crucial items.

She recalled the moment the quake struck, sending the building lurching and furniture sliding, while she rushed to save the four puppies she keeps as pets.

"I'm a Hualien native," she told Reuters. "I'm not supposed to fear earthquakes. But this is an earthquake that frightened us."

(Reporting by Yimou Lee and Fabian Hamacher; Writing by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Clarence Fernandez, Alexandra Hudson)