Powerful earthquake rocks southern Taiwan

At least 11 dead



The 17-story Wei Guan building collapsed after a powerful quake stuck Tainan [Miguel Toran/Al Jazeera]

The 17-story Wei Guan building collapsed after a powerful quake stuck Tainan [Miguel Toran/Al Jazeera]

Rescue teams were racing to find survivors after a 6.4 magnitude earthquake struck Taiwan, killing at least seven people, injuring scores and trapping many under rubble.

More than 1,200 firefighters scrambled with ladders, cranes and other equipment to the ruins of a 17-floor residential building in the city of Tainan that collapsed when the quake struck about 4am local time on Saturday.

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.

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.”

At least 247 survivors were pulled out of the collapsed high-rise, the emergency response centre said, while 73 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.