Five dead, including 10-day-old girl in Taiwan quake
A powerful earthquake toppled a 17-story apartment building in Tainan, southern Taiwan on Saturday, killing at least five people, including a 10-day-old girl, and triggering frantic efforts to rescue about 35 people feared trapped inside.
The baby and three of the other dead were from an apartment complex where the floors of a tower block pancaked down onto to each other when the 6.4 magnitude tremor hit at around 4am, at the start of a Lunar New Year holiday.
By 8am, escuers mounted hydraulic ladders and a crane to scour the wreckage, plucking 221 survivors to safety so far, with dozens taken to hospital, a fire brigade official said.
Elsewhere in the city of 2 million people, several buildings tilted at alarming angles but a fire department official said rescue efforts were now focused entirely on the apartment block, where a child’s clothes fluttered from a first-floor laundry line and the smell of leaking gas hung in the air.
“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,” said a 71-year-old neighbour who gave his name as Chang.
A plumber, he said he fetched some tools and a ladder and prised some window bars open 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. 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.”
Rescue personnel work at a damaged building after an earthquake in Tainan, southern Taiwan PHOTO: REUTERS
The quake was centred 43km southeast of Tainan, at a depth of 23km, the U.S. Geological Survey said. Several aftershocks shook Tainan, Taiwan’s weather bureau said.
One elderly woman, wrapped in blankets, was strapped to a board and slowly slid down a ramp to the ground as the cries of those still trapped rang out. Rescuers used dogs and acoustic equipment to pick up signs of life in the rubble.
Authorities said there were 92 households and 256 people living in the collapsed apartment building, but they did not know how many were actually there when the quake struck.
The fire department said 115 people had been taken to hospital from around Tainan.
Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan posted on Facebook that the Singapore Trade Office in Taipei has been getting in touch with Singaporeans there. There are no reports of Singaporean casualties.
SEVERAL BUILDINGS DAMAGED
Tainan mayor William Lai said it was too early to say if shoddy construction was responsible for the devastation at the apartment complex with the 17-storey tower which collapsed. “We will chase the legal responsibility later,” he told reporters.
President Ma Ying-jeou visited an emergency centre and hospital in Tainan while President-elect Tsai Ing-wen cancelled appointments to help coordinate rescue efforts.
China’s Taiwan Affairs Office, which in is charge of Beijing’s relations with the self-ruled island, said China was willing to provide help if needed, Chinese state news agency Xinhua said. Beijing regards Taiwan as a wayward province.
The quake initially cut power to 168,000 households in Tainan, many of whose residents lived through a massive 1999 tremor that killed about 2,400 people. Later, utility Taipower said power had been restored to all but about 900 households.
Rescue personnel help a victim at a damaged building PHOTO: REUTERS
Taiwan lies in the seismically active “Pacific Ring of Fire”. Television quoted Tainan residents as saying the quake felt worse than the 1999 tremor, centred in central Taiwan.
850 soldiers have been mobilised for rescue efforts.
Authorities said cracks had been found in a dam but there was no immediate danger. Some bullet train services were suspended to the south as track inspections were carried out, Taiwan High Speed Rail Corp said in a statement.
— Reuters, Xinhua