A powerful earthquake struck Taiwan on Saturday killing at least seven people, most in a 17-storey apartment building that collapsed, with about 35 people still feared trapped there hours into a rescue operation.
As a search for survivors in the rubble went on, questions were being raised about the construction of the Wei-guan Golden Dragon Building, with its floors that pancaked down on each other when the 6.4 magnitude tremor hit at around 4 a.m. (2000 GMT), at the start of a Lunar New Year holiday.
Five of the dead, including a 10-day-old girl, were from the apartment building in the southern city of Tainan.
Rescuers mounted hydraulic ladders and a crane to scour the ruins, plucking more than 220 survivors to safety, with dozens taken to hospital, a fire brigade official said.
Buildings in nine other locations in the city of 2 million people had collapsed and five were left tilting at alarming angles, a government emergency centre said.
But a fire department official said rescue efforts were focused on the apartment block, where a child’s clothes fluttered from a first-floor laundry line and the smell of leaking gas hung in the air.
“I was watching TV and after a sudden burst of shaking, I heard a boom. I opened my metal door and saw the building opposite fall down,” said a 71-year-old neighbour who gave his name as Chang.
A plumber, he said he fetched some tools and a ladder and prised some window bars open to rescue a woman crying for help.
“She asked me to go back and rescue her husband, child, but I was afraid of a gas explosion so I didn’t go in. At the time there were more people calling for help, but my ladder wasn’t long enough so there was no way to save them.”
The quake was centred 43 km (27 miles) southeast of Tainan, at a depth of 23 km (14 miles), the U.S. Geological Survey said.
An elderly woman, wrapped in blankets, was strapped to a board and slowly slid down a ramp to the ground as the cries of those still trapped rang out. Rescuers used dogs and acoustic equipment to pick up signs of life in the rubble.
Authorities said there were 96 units and 256 people living in the collapsed apartment building, but they did not know how many were actually there when the quake struck.
The fire department said 115 people had been taken to hospital from around Tainan.