TAIPEI: The last two victims of an earthquake that hit the Taiwan tourist hotspot of Hualien three weeks ago have finally been removed from the rubble of a collapsed hotel.
The Chinese couple from Beijing who were on a sightseeing trip had already been named among the 17 dead after a 6.4-magnitude quake toppled buildings in the coastal town.
But their bodies remained in a second-floor hotel in the 12-storey Yun Tsui building, which was left leaning at around a 50-degree angle by the quake, complicating rescue efforts due to fears of an imminent collapse.
Emergency workers had combed through rubble at the foot of the mainly residential block since the quake struck the eastern city on February 6, retrieving the last two bodies Sunday.
Three other members of the couple's family were also killed in the quake. Of the 17 people who died, 14 perished in the Yun Tsui building.
Hualien mayor Fu Kun-chi had said the last two victims were pinned under heavy pillars that could not be removed without risking a total collapse of the building, and the rescue was called off with the consent of their relatives five days after the quake hit.
Excavators were digging through the building from the top to recover the bodies.
The Hualien county government said the bodies of the Chinese couple had been sent to a local funeral parlour and their relatives had been informed.
Three other partially collapsed buildings in Hualien have been demolished, including the local landmark Marshal Hotel where one employee was killed.
Hualien, on Taiwan's rugged east coast, is one of the most popular tourist destinations on the quake-prone island.
Taiwan's worst quake in recent decades was a 7.6-magnitude tremor in September 1999 that killed around 2,400 people.
The disaster ushered in stricter building codes but many of Taiwan's older buildings remain perilously vulnerable to even moderate quakes.
Taiwan's government announced Monday that it will allocate a subsidy of Tw$6 billion ($200 million) over the next four years to screen and reinforce quake-resistance in buildings across the island which were constructed before 1999.
Nearly 2,000 buildings in Hualien were damaged by the recent quake, which also left nearly 300 people injured and caused a loss of around Tw$10 billion to local businesses, mostly in the tourism sector, authorities said.