Rescuers bid to free survivors after deadly Taiwan earthquake

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Rescue crews are trying to free two people from a hotel after the ground floor caved in following a strong earthquake near Taiwan’s east coast which killed at least four people.

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

Four people were killed and 225 others were injured, while more than 140 were unaccounted for, Taiwan’s official Central News Agency reported.

A rescue worker told Taiwanese broadcaster TVBS that crews were working to save two other employees as family members waited nearby.

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)

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)

“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 all but two of the 145 people who could not be reached 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.”

Taiwan Earthquake
Firemen hose down a collapsed building (Central News Agency/AP)

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.

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