Thousands of rescue workers in Taiwan clawed through vast mounds of wreckage early Monday in hopes of rescuing the more than 100 people trapped in the rubble of a 17-story apartment building left flattened by a powerful earthquake. More than 170 people have been rescued alive from the collapsed building.
Authorities say Saturday's predawn 6.4 magnitude quake killed at least 34 people and injured more than 500 others in Tainan, a city of 2 million residents.
At least 250 people are believed to have been trapped inside their apartments by the earthquake, which struck during the most important holiday in the Chinese calendar -- the Lunar New Year.
Rescuers, firefighters and volunteers combed throughout the rubble using cranes, picks and their hands in hopes of finding signs of life, while medical staff and ambulances waited nearby.
A relative cries after his family member was confirmed dead at a 17-storey apartment building that collapsed after an earthquake hit Tainan, southern Taiwan, Feb. 7, 2016.
"Today in the morning and afternoon we used a life detector to look for survivors, and in the end we did not detect any signs of life," Cheng Chi-Feng, deputy leader of the Tainan City Government Rescue Team, said Sunday. "If we find any signs of life, we will be digging to find them."
Elsewhere in Tainan, two other partially collapsed buildings were left tilting sharply away from their foundations, with their lower floors crumpled under tons of concrete and steel.
Officials say they will investigate whether there were any building code construction violations.
Tainan Mayor Lai Ching-te, speaking on local television, said detection equipment showed at least 29 people buried in the rubble were still alive several hours after daybreak Sunday. He said it could take several more hours to reach survivors, and workers would first target those closest to rescue operations.
Emergency rescuers continue to search for missing in a collapsed building from an earthquake in Tainan, Taiwan, Feb. 7, 2016.
"From the current rescue operation, you can see that at the present stage the work is quite difficult. With every rescue, we need to spend more than eight to 10 hours,: said Lai. "And then there are (still) some, around one hundred something people, trapped inside. The search and rescue teams want to enter but have no way to get to their bodies. This is the current situation."
The shallow quake struck just before 4 a.m., local time Saturday, with its epicenter in Kaohsiung's Meinong district. Taiwan's official Central News Agency says nine buildings were destroyed, all in nearby Tainan city. Dozens of buildings were declared unsafe, forcing mass evacuations and the closure of markets, banks and other facilities.
Taiwan’s Central Weather Bureau said there have been several aftershocks since the original quake.
Social-media posts and news reports said Saturday’s jolt recalled a disastrous earthquake that killed thousands of people in September 1999. That quake, one of the strongest to hit Taiwan during the 20th century, had a magnitude of 7.7 - far stronger than Saturday’s event.
Rescue workers transport a body from the site where a 17-story apartment building collapsed after an earthquake hit Tainan, southern Taiwan, Feb. 7, 2016.
In addition to being a historic city, Tainan is also the base of operations for high-tech companies, including the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC), the world’s largest contract chipmaker.
A spokeswoman at TSMC told Reuters that the quake damaged the company's facilities in Tainan. The company is a major supplier to global smartphone makers, including Apple.
The quake also caused widespread problems on Taiwan’s high-speed rail network, stranding many passengers in the north.
Quake-prone Taiwan is in a highly active seismic zone known as the "Pacific Ring of Fire," and more than 50 fault lines pass through the island.
Adrianna Zhang contributed to this story from Washington.