BEIJING/WASHINGTON - Thousands of rescue workers in Taiwan clawed through vast mounds of wreckage early Sunday, searching for survivors of a powerful earthquake that ravaged the coastal city of Tainan on the island’s southwest coast.
Authorities said Saturday's predawn quake, measured at 6.4 magnitude, killed at least 24 people and injured more than 500 others in Tainan, a city of 2 million. Most of the victims were in a 17-story apartment building that was flattened. Two other partially collapsed buildings were left tilting sharply away from their foundations, with their lower floors crumpled under hundreds of tons of concrete and steel.
About 250 people were believed to have been inside their apartments at the time the earthquake hit, and authorities said Sunday morning that more than 120 of those residents were thought to be still trapped in the wreckage.
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 that workers would first target those closest to rescue operations.
The shallow quake struck just before 4 a.m., local time, with its epicenter about 40 kilometers southeast of Tainan in Kaohsiung's Meinong district. The CNA report said nine buildings were destroyed, all in Tainan. Dozens of buildings were declared unsafe Saturday, forcing mass evacuations and the closure of markets, banks and other facilities.
Taiwan’s Central Weather Bureau said several aftershocks followed. On social media and in news reports, some remarked that the quake reminded them of the island’s massive quake in 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.
Saturday morning’s earthquake hit while many were still asleep and seriously damaged a number of buildings, including historic temples.
Rescue under way
About 2,000 firefighters and soldiers scrambled with ladders, cranes and other equipment to the ruins of the 17-floor residential building, which folded like an accordion onto its side after the quake struck.
Among the bodies found by rescuers were those of a 10-day-old infant, three other children and six adults, Taiwan's emergency management information center said. One other death was reported at the site, but details were not immediately available.
Authorities said two people were killed by falling objects elsewhere in Tainan.
Rescuers pulled out at least 247 survivors from the collapsed building, the emergency management information center said. Throughout Tainan, 334 people were rescued, the city government said.
In addition to being a historic city, Tainan is also the base of operations for high-tech companies, such as the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC), the world’s largest contract chipmaker.
A spokeswoman for TSMC told Reuters that some of the wafers the company makes in Tainan had been damaged in the quake and that could have an impact on some customers. The company did not say which customers might be affected, but TSMC is a major supplier to global smartphone makers, including Apple.
The earthquake was causing delays in Taiwan’s high-speed rail system, leaving many stranded in the north. Some trains to the south of Taiwan were halted as inspections were carried out on the tracks, the Taiwan High Speed Rail Corporation said.
Quake-prone Taiwan is located inside a highly active fault zone known as the "Pacific Ring of Fire" and is crisscrossed by more than 50 fault lines. The 1999 quake that struck in Chi-chi, in Nantou County, killed more than 2,400 people.
Adrianna Zhang contributed to this story from Washington. Some information for this report came from AP.?