A magnitude 6.4 earthquake rattled the nation at 3:57am yesterday, killing at least 15 people and injuring hundreds.
Emergency personnel rushed to Tainan, which had the highest number of casualties after several buildings collapsed.
At press time, emergency workers were still trying to search for people who might be trapped inside the 17-story Weiguan Jinlong residential building in the city’s Yongkang District (永康), which was left lying on its side on Yongda Road, with twisted metal girders exposed and clouds of dust rising from the concrete debris.
Officials said there were 256 people registered as living in the complex comprising 96 apartments. However, it was not clear how many people were inside the building at the time of the quake. As of 9:30 pm, rescuers had pulled 167 people from the building, while 155 remained unaccounted for, according to family members.
At least 30 people were rescued earlier from another seven-story residential building.
Officials said that eight other buildings collapsed or were semi-collapsed, several of which were left leaning at alarming angles.
More than 400 people were injured, with over 60 hospitalized, across the city.
As of 8:30pm, the Central Emergency Operations Center said that among the 15 killed, 13 were found at the ruins of the Weiguan Jinlong apartment building, including a 10-day-old infant.
A water tower fell on a 56-year-old woman in Gueiren District (歸仁), and a man died after a cabinet fell on him.
There were also reports of people injured by falling debris. One man in Yunlin County broke his leg trying to escape by jumping out of a second-floor window.
Most people were asleep when the earthquake struck.
“[The building] first started shaking horizontally, then up and down, then a big shake right to left,” said Tainan resident Lin Bao-gui, a secondhand car salesman whose cars were smashed when the residential complex across the street from him collapsed. “I stayed in my bed, but jumped up when I heard the big bang that was the sound of the building falling.”
The quake was centered in Kaohsiung’s Meinong District (美濃), at a depth of 17km, the Central Weather Bureau said. The strongest tremors, which had an intensity of 6 on the 0-7 seismic scale, were felt in Yunlin County, the bureau said. Kaohsiung, Pingtung, Tainan and Chiayi reported intensity 5, while Taitung, Penghu, Changhua, Nantou and Taichung felt level 4.
Strong aftershocks, which were centered in Tainan, were felt hours after the initial quake.
According to the National Fire Agency, the quake left about 400,000 households without water nationwide. Power outages affected about 121,000 residences in Tainan and hundreds in Kaohsiung.
The government set up the Central Emergency Operations Center to coordinate relief efforts, sending helicopters as well as medical and rescue teams to the stricken areas.
President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) promised an all-out effort to rescue those trapped in collapsed buildings and to help survivors.
Ministry of National Defense officials said military units in southern Taiwan had mobilized 810 personnel, 11 medical teams, 24 teams equipped with breathing detection devices and 38 vehicles to join the search-and-rescue efforts.
Helicopters from the Army Aviation and Special Forces Command, based in Gueiren District, carried out aerial surveys, assisting ground crews in identifying priority disaster-relief zones and assessing damage, the ministry said.