HUALIEN (Taiwan) • Rescuers combed through the rubble of collapsed buildings last night in a search for about 67 people missing after a strong earthquake killed at least seven near Taiwan’s popular tourist city of Hualien.

The magnitude 6.4 quake, which hit near the coastal city just before midnight on Tuesday, also injured 258 people and caused four buildings to collapse, officials said.

Many of the missing were believed to be still trapped inside buildings, some of which were left leaning at precarious angles, after the quake hit about 22km north-east of Hualien on Taiwan’s east coast.

At the city’s Marshal Hotel, rescuers trying to free two trapped Taiwanese pulled one out alive, but the other person was declared dead, the government said.

Among the injured were mainland Chinese, Czech, Japanese and South Korean nationals.

“This is the worst earthquake in the history of Hualien, or at least over the past 40 years that I have been alive,” said volunteer Yang Hsi Hua. “We have never had anything like this; we have never had a building topple over. Also, it was constantly shaking, so everyone was really scared. We ran to empty, open spaces.”

Aftershocks with a magnitude of at least 5.0 could rock the island in the next two weeks, the government said. Smaller tremors rattled nervous residents throughout the day.

Residents waited and watched anxiously as emergency workers dressed in fluorescent orange and red suits and wearing helmets searched for residents trapped in apartment blocks.

Hualien is home to about 100,000 people. The force of the quake left the streets buckled, with around 40,000 homes left without water and around 1,900 without power. Water supply had resumed for nearly 5,000 homes by noon yesterday, while power was restored to around 1,700 households.

During rescue efforts, emergency workers surrounded a badly damaged 12-storey residential building, a major focus of the efforts. Windows had collapsed and the building was wedged into the ground at a roughly 40-degree angle.

Rescuers worked their way around and through the building while residents looked on from behind cordoned-off roads.

One resident living nearby told Agence France-Presse how he watched the tower block collapse partially. “I saw the first floor sink into the ground. Then it sank and tilted further, and the fourth floor became the first floor,” said Mr Lu Chih-son, 35, who saw 20 people rescued from the building.

“My family were unhurt, but a neighbour was injured in the head and was bleeding. We dare not go back home now. There are many aftershocks, and we are worried the house is damaged.”

A Reuters video showed large cracks in the road, while police and emergency services tried to help anxious people roaming the streets. A car sat buried in rubble as rescue workers combed through the ruins of a nearby building.

President Tsai Ing-wen went to the scene of the quake early yesterday to help direct rescue operations.

“The President has asked the Cabinet and related ministries to immediately launch the ‘disaster mechanism’ and to work at the fastest rate on disaster relief work,” Ms Tsai’s office said in a statement.

Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing, which is the world’s largest contract chipmaker and a major Apple supplier, said initial assessments indicated no impact from the earthquake.

Taiwan lies near the junction of two tectonic plates and is prone to earthquakes. On Sunday, an earthquake with a magnitude of 6.1 struck in the same area.

More than 100 people were killed in a quake in southern Taiwan in 2016, and more than 2,000 people died after a 7.6 magnitude quake that was felt across the island in 1999.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE



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