Rescuers worked all-out to find survivors after a powerful, shallow 6.4-magnitude earthquake struck southern Taiwan before dawn today collapsing a high-rise residential complex and killing at least seven people, sending scores to hospital and leaving about a couple dozen missing.
Rescuers pulled 247 survivors from the rubble in the worst-hit Tainan city. More than 1,200 firefighters scrambled with ladders, cranes and other equipment to the ruins of a 17-floor residential building that folded like an accordion in a pile of rubble and twisted metal.
Local media said the building included a care centre for new-borns and mothers, and a new-born was among the dead in the disaster, which came two days ahead of the Lunar New Year celebrations that are the most important family holiday in the Chinese calendar.
Most people were caught asleep when the temblor struck about 4 am local time (2000 GMT Friday). It hit some 35 kilometres southeast of Yujing, and struck about 10 km underground, according to the U S Geological Survey.
''If first starting shaking horizontally, then up and down, then a big shake right to left,'' said Tainan resident Lin Bao-gui, a second-hand 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,'' he said.
The emergency response centre said seven people were killed, including a 10-day-old infant, a small child and at least two other residents inside the high-rise. One death was caused by falling objects. No details were immediately available for the two additional deaths.
Rescuers pulled out 247 survivors, the emergency centre said. Seventy-three people were sent to hospitals.
The Wei Guan residential tower was home to 256 people living in 96 units. According to the disaster response center, 230 of them were rescued and 26 unaccounted for, although it was unclear how many people were inside the building at the time of the fall.
The Taiwanese news website ET Today reported that a mother and a daughter were among the survivors from the Wei Guan building, and that the girl drank her urine while waiting for rescue, which came sooner than expected.
Dozens more people have been rescued or safely evacuated from a market and a seven-floor building that was badly damaged, the official China Central News Agency reported. A bank building also careened, but no injuries were reported, it said.
As dawn broke, live Taiwanese TV showed survivors being brought gingerly from the high-rise, including an elderly woman in a neck brace and others wrapped in blankets. The trappings of daily life a partially crushed air conditioner, pieces of a metal balcony, windows lay twisted in rubble.
People with their arms around firefighters were being helped from the building, and cranes were being used to search darkened parts of the structure for survivors. Newscasters said other areas of the city were still being canvassed for possible damage.
Men in camouflage, apparently military personnel, marched into one area of collapse carrying large shovels.
The disaster response centre said 1,236 rescuers were deployed, including 840 from the army, along with six helicopters and 23 rescue dogs.
The quake was felt as a lengthy, rolling shake in the capital, Taipei, on the other side of the island. But Taipei was quiet, with no sense of emergency or obvious damage just before dawn.
Residents in mainland China also reported that the tremor was felt there.
Questions were being asked if the construction crew had cut corners when building the Wei Guan residential complex that was finished in 1989. The interior minister, Chen Wei-zen, said an investigation would examine if the developer skirted requirements.
Earthquakes frequently rattle Taiwan, but most are minor and cause little or no damage.