Powerful earthquake rocks southern Taiwan

At least 26 people confirmed dead after 17-storey building in the city of Tainan collapses, trapping scores.

    More than 100 people remain trapped under the rubble of a 17-storey building, as rescue teams race to find survivors after a 6.4 magnitude earthquake struck Taiwan.

    At least 26 people were killed and scores injured when the quake struck the city of Tainan about 4:00am local time on Saturday.

    More than 1,200 firefighters scrambled with ladders, cranes and other equipment to the ruins of the 17-storey residential building that collapsed. Over 170 people have been rescued so far.

    The Tainan emergency response centre said a 10-day-old infant and a small child were among those killed in the disaster, which came two days ahead of Lunar New Year celebrations, a major public holiday. 


    IN PICTURES: Powerful quake hits southern Taiwan


    "She's not answering my phone calls ... I am trying to hold my emotions and stay strong. I'll do that until I find her," said a woman surnamed Chang, 42, waiting to hear from her 24-year-old daughter who lived on the fifth floor of the complex.

    "Nothing matters but to get her out. The lady living across the hallway was rescued yesterday. I know they will find her, but I have also planned for the worst. It's been more than 20 hours now," Reuters quoted the woman as saying.

    Reporting from outside the collapsed Wei Guan residential complex in Tainan, Al Jazeera's Rob McBride said survivors were still being pulled out 12 hours after the quake destroyed the building. 

    "The building is completely on its side, everything is down at ground level," McBride said.

    "There are still finding survivors, the search and rescue operation is continuing," he added. "There are teams crawling all over inside this main building - this is where most of the casualties it seems have occurred and most of the missing are still located - moving through floor by floor, going inside the structure."

    The spectacular fall of the 17-storey high-rise immediately raised questions about its construction, and Taiwan's interior minister said there would be an investigation. Nine other buildings in the city collapsed and five careened.

     

    At least 247 survivors were pulled out of the collapsed high-rise, the emergency response centre said, while over 90 people were sent to hospitals and eight people were unaccounted for.

    The Taiwanese news website ET Today reported that a mother and a daughter were among the survivors, and that the girl had to drink her urine to survive while waiting to be rescued.

    Dozens more people were evacuated from a market and a seven-floor building that was badly damaged, according to the official China Central News Agency.

    The US Geological Survey (USGS) said the earthquake was centred 43km southeast of the city of nearly two million people.

    The quake was very shallow, at a depth of just 10km, which would have amplified its effects above the surface, the USGS said.

    At least five aftershocks of 3.8 magnitude or more shook Tainan about half-an-hour after the initial quake, according to Taiwan's Central Weather Bureau.

    A report in Taiwan's China Post newspaper said: 

    "The city government there has set up a level one emergency response centre. Onlookers are urged not to block access to emergency crews moving into the area."

     

    Taiwan lies in the seismically active Pacific Ring of Fire - near the junction of two tectonic plates - and is regularly hit by earthquakes.

    In September 1999, a powerful quake also hit southern Taiwan, killing an estimated 2,400 people.

    Rescue workers carry out a man from the rubble after Saturday's 6.4 magnitude quake [Reuters]

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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