A powerful earthquake struck in southern Taiwan Saturday, toppling buildings and leaving at least seven people dead and hundreds more injured, officials said.
The 6.4-magnitude earthquake struck about 30 miles east of Tainan, a city of more than 1.8 million, just before 4 a.m. (3 p.m. Friday E.T.), the U.S. Geological Survey said.
At least 403 people were hurt in the quake, which caused nine buildings to topple and five more to tilt, Taiwan’s National Fire Agency said.
The 16-story Wei Guan residential building in Tainan collapsed, setting off a frantic search effort that involved more than 200 firefighters, authorities said. Other buildings were left tilted at alarming angles.
Five people were killed inside the collapsed Wei Guan building where at least 11 residents remain missing, according to the National Fire Agency. A 10-day-old baby is among the dead, Reuters reported.
Two more people died in Tainan’s Gueiren District, including a woman who was hit by a fallen water tower and who was in one of the tilted buildings.
In all, 245 people were removed from the damaged building, the National Fire Agency said. Sixty-eight of those rescued were hospitalized, the agency said.
“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,” a 71-year-old neighbor who gave his name as Chang told Reuters.
Chang, a plumber, fetched some tools and a ladder and pried open some window bars 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,” Chang told Reuters. “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.”
Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou said every effort was being taken to rescue survivors. A 1,200-bed shelter was established at a nearby military school.
The earthquake occurred at a depth of around 14 miles, and Tainan was the hardest hit city, the U.S.G.S. said.
Saturday’s earthquake could be felt in the capital of Taipei, located on the other side of the island, where the shaking was so violent it awoke many in the city, Reuters reporter Yimou Lee said in a phone interview.
Taiwan is situated on the seismically active “Ring of Fire.” A massive 7.3-magnitude earthquake that struck in the central Taiwan in 1999 killed about 2,400 people.
China’s government has offered assistance to Taiwan and expressed condolences for the victims, state run media Xinhua reported.