Rescuers hunt for survivors after earthquake shakes Taiwan coast

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Rescue crews are continuing to scour collapsed building for survivors after a strong earthquake near Taiwan’s east coast killed at least six people.

The shallow, magnitude 6.4 quake that struck late on Tuesday night caused several buildings in worst-hit Hualien county to cave in and tilt dangerously.

Six people were killed and 256 others were injured, while 88 were unaccounted for, officials said.

Rescue workers saved one employee from the Marshal Hotel after its ground floor caved in.

Taiwan’s National Fire Agency said another hotel worker was also freed from the rubble but did not show any vital signs.

A maintenance worker who was rescued after being trapped in the hotel basement said the force of the earthquake was unusual.

“At first it wasn’t that big … we get this sort of thing all the time and it’s really nothing. But then it got really terrifying,” Chen Ming-hui told CNA after he was reunited with his son and grandson. “It was really scary.”

TAIWAN Earthquake
(PA Graphics)

Other buildings shifted on their foundations and rescuers used ladders, ropes and cranes to get residents to safety.

Video footage and photos showed several mid-sized buildings leaning at sharp angles, their lowest floors crushed into mangled heaps of concrete, shattered glass, bent iron beams and other debris.

Firefighters could be seen climbing ladders hoisted against windows as they sought to reach residents inside apartments.

The force of the tremor buckled roads and disrupted electricity and water supplies to thousands of households, the National Fire Agency said.

China’s official Xinhua News Agency reported that the director of China’s Taiwan Affairs office, Zhang Zhijun, said Beijing was “willing to send a rescue team to Taiwan” to help with relief efforts, adding that he was aware of a shortage of rescue workers in the disaster area.

Japan’s Foreign Ministry said nine Japanese were among the injured. CNA reported that 16 foreigners were injured overall.

Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen moved to reassure the public that every effort would be made to look for survivors. In a post on her official Facebook page, she said she arrived in Hualien on Wednesday to review rescue efforts.

Taiwan Earthquake
President Tsai Ing-wen is briefed at the scene in Hualien (Taiwan Presidential Office/AP)

Ms Tsai said she “ordered search and rescue workers not to give up on any opportunity to save people, while keeping their own safety in mind”.

“This is when the Taiwanese people show their calm, resilience and love,” she wrote. “The government will work with everyone to guard their homeland.”

CNA said many of the missing might be in the Yunmen Cuiti building, a 12-storey apartment building, though it did not immediately have an estimate of how many were trapped.

Chen Tzai-Tung, a worker with the government disaster centre, said it was not safe for rescuers to enter the Yunmen building because it was still leaning further bit by bit.

“It’s still in the process of tilting, so it would be dangerous to go in there,” Mr Chen said. “They’re scrambling for time.”

A residential building leans on a collapsed first floor (Central News Agency/AP)
A residential building leans on a collapsed first floor (Central News Agency/AP)

Taiwanese media reported that the Beautiful Life Hotel was also tilting.

Bridges and some highways were closed pending inspections.

With aftershocks continuing through the night, residents were directed to shelters, including a newly built baseball stadium, where beds and hot food were provided.

Speaking from a crisis centre in Taipei, cabinet spokesman Hsu Kuo-yung said rail links appeared to be unaffected and the runway of Hualien airport was intact.

“We’re putting a priority on Hualien people being able to return home to check on their loved ones,” Mr Hsu said.

The US Geological Survey said the quake struck just before midnight on Tuesday about 13 miles north east of Hualien at a relatively shallow depth of about 6.6 miles.