WASHINGTON — Just before 2 a.m. on Sept. 21, 1999, a 7.6 magnitude earthquake rumbled through Taiwan spreading devastation from its epicenter in Nantou County in Central Taiwan all across the island nation.
Roads buckled. Landscapes warped. Massive landslides created new bodies of water. Tall buildings wobbled and crumbled. More than 2,400 people died — approximately 11,000 were injured and 100,000 were left homeless. Many were trapped in the rubble, including Hsu Tse Tai, who was waiting to die.
The world rushed in to help. The Fairfax County International Urban Search & Rescue team, VA-TF One, was among the first to arrive.
“I remember traveling for over 24 hours straight to get over there and when we arrived in the country we went right to work,” said Clyde Buchanan, one of the team members.
Buchanan’s teammate Mark Plunkett said they tunneled down to Hsu. “He was trapped basically by his ankle in a small place where it was very hard to get down past the rest of him and the debris to get to him.”
Working feverishly for hours they managed to free him. By the time he recovered, VA-TF 1 had returned to the U.S.
He didn’t get the chance to thank them until now.
During the World Police and Fire-Games, held here in the D.C. area, in June, his rescuers were presented with a touching letter he wrote thanking them for saving his life:
“The mountain shakes, the ground moves. It’s like I’m in another world. I suffered from a big disaster, but I managed to survive and the only reason is because of you.
Thanks a lot we are friends,
Hsu Tse Tai