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How two Canadians fought to survive the Taiwan earthquake

How two Canadians fought to survive the Taiwan earthquake


A week after an earthquake in Taiwan killed 13 people and injured more than 1,000, a Canadian couple nurses their injuries and tells their story of survival.

Lilia Lemay of Montreal and her boyfriend Brandon Iwanishin of Edmonton were hiking April 3 in Taroko Valley, in a national park in the eastern part of the island, when a 7.4-magnitude earthquake struck.

It should have been a magical vacation week for a couple who work at an international school in Dalian, China.

Taroko National Park, a popular hiking destination about 25 kilometers northwest of the hard-hit city of Hualien, was the perfect place to celebrate Limay's 34th birthday on April 4.

“Perfect day”

The couple set off early, at 7:15 a.m., before the tour buses arrived on what Lemay described as a “perfect day.”

“The valley was turquoise, the sky was blue,” she told Radio-Canada in French on Tuesday in a video interview from Hualien Hospital.

At 7:58 a.m., while they were hiking alone, the ground suddenly started shaking, triggering landslides all around them. They were both injured by falling rocks.

Lemay remembers falling to the ground from the impact and trying to protect her head.

“I thought to myself: 'Here we are, it's April 3. Tomorrow I'm supposed to be 34 but I'm not going to do it. It's all going to end now.'

In shock, the couple ran for cover near a small power station. They tried to get in, but it was locked.

“The last thing I remember is us standing on all fours and trying to protect ourselves,” said Iwanishin, who conducted his interview in English. “We hid behind this little wall.”

Lilia Lemay of Montreal and her boyfriend Brandon Iwanishin of Edmonton take cover from falling rocks by huddling near this building in Toroko Gorge in eastern Taiwan. (Submitted by Brandon Iwanishin) He struggles through serious injuries

Both were seriously injured. Lemay sustained numerous injuries and later learned she had suffered a fractured vertebra. Brandon suffered a compound fracture of his skull and a broken foot.

“Brandon told me, 'I'm fine. … I'm fine,'” LeMay said. “But I saw his wound, I knew he wasn't feeling well. I didn't want us to spend the night.”

With almost no food or water and constant aftershocks, they decided it was best to keep moving. They were helped by the fact that Iwanishin kept notes and kept track of time and travel coordinates.

Limay suffered a fractured vertebrae after being exposed to falling rocks. (Submitted by Brandon Iwanishin)

“We knew we were both injured, but we said to ourselves: Can we walk? Yes. Let's do it.”

Iwanishin said they provided their loved ones with their locations before they lost cell phone reception, then decided to follow the river out to the river, where the rocks didn't seem to reach. They eventually reached a place on the road where food and souvenirs were usually sold, and found 10 more survivors.

“Seeing these people was like Christmas morning,” he said.

Aftershocks cause panic

All 12 hikers were taken to Tzu Chi Hospital in Hualien. The couple will remain there for at least nine more days to recover from the surgery.

Lilia has to wear a neck collar and Brandon's shaved head now has a huge gash held together with stitches.

There are also emotional scars. Every aftershock, more than 700 of which were recorded during the past week, causes panic.

The first big aftershock at the hospital triggered what Lemay believes was a panic attack. After major aftershocks, a nurse knocked on their door to ask if they were okay.

“For us, in Taroko Gorge, every aftershock meant we had to be careful because the rocks were falling,” Lemay said. “I think that feeling of not panicking, but being extra alert, is hard to shake.”

Lemay said they are taking their injuries day by day and will focus on rest.

The kindness of strangers

The couple is extremely grateful to the people who helped them through their ordeal: friends, family and co-workers, as well as those they met after the earthquake, including emergency responders and hospital staff.

The couple also say they were impressed with the help they received from the Canadian Consulate in Taipei. An actor visited them almost every day in the hospital.

Iwanishin, pictured, and Limay were full of praise for all the people who have helped them since the quake. (Submitted by Brandon Iwanishin)

One of the strangers who met him at the hospital saw that Lemay was in pain, so he took her hand and stroked her hair.

“She found out it was my birthday, and then she came back with a cake and a birthday card. It was just amazing, the kindness of people and strangers.”




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