Taiwanese community to observe 20th anniversary of earthquake

Earth-shattering disasters can sometimes forge the strongest of relationships.

It will be 20 years since Taiwan was destroyed by an earthquake of 7.6 magnitude killing 2400 people and injuring more than 11,000. It happened on September 21 at 1.47am, leaving 100,000 people homeless.

More than 9000km away in Pakuranga, Councillor Sharon Stewart still remembers how horrified she was on hearing the news.

On contacting the Taiwanese community leaders in Howick and Pakuranga, Sharon thought this would be an opportunity for NZ Firemen and Search and Rescue to learn from assisting in Taiwan as many people were trapped or buried alive. Time was running out.

On contacting Search and Rescue in Palmerston North, Sharon was informed that there was no budget available. Refusing to give up, she made a couple of calls.

By 10am a group of Taiwanese leaders paid for New Zealand’s first ever NZ Search and Rescue to fly out to an international disaster.

Local Howick residents YS Hsieh, CK and Nancy Shih, Jimmy Huang and many others dug deep as they put a team of New Zealand Specialist Search and Rescue on a direct flight to Taiwan.

Jimmy Huang, YS Hsieh, Nancy Shih, CK Shih, Sharon Stewart, Richard Shih and the NZ firefighters that went to Taiwan assist with the earthquake. Photo was taken 21st September 1999 when the earthquake hit Taiwan. Photo supplied

On arrival they teamed up with American, Japanese and Russian Search and Rescue teams. This gave them an opportunity to learn in a real disaster. The NZ team that went across are still working in the field of search and rescue and used the experience when the deadly earthquake struck Christchurch in 2011.

On October 3, a 20 year remembrance is being held of all first responders of all countries who sent people to assist in their time of need.

A team of five current fire and rescue will be attending the Remembrance Day in Taiwan which will include an international conference on current and new techniques and procedures for search and rescue.

Sharon and Jerry Shih, president of Taiwanese Business Association, with the assistance of  Jeff Liu, director Taipei Economic and Cultural Office, Bryan Cartelle of Fire and Emergency and staff from Civil Defence will be organising a Remembrance Day for all those involved.

The Remembrance Day will acknowledge the Search and Rescue team that went across to Taiwan 20 years ago.