Beijing: A powerful earthquake has hit the southern Taiwanese city of Tainan, killing at least 13 and leaving hundreds more feared trapped.
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Taiwan struck by powerful quake
A magnitude 6.4 earthquake topples a 17-storey apartment building in the southern Taiwanese city of Tainan.
The 6.4 magnitude quake struck before dawn on Saturday, sparking an emergency rescue response which has seen hundreds rescued from the rubble, just one day before the Lunar New Year's Eve, a time of family celebrations.
Most of those who lost their lives were in a 17-storey apartment building that collapsed, with some people still known to be missing in the ruins of the complex as night fell, government officials said.
As rescuers searched for survivors, questions were raised about the construction of the Wei-guan Golden Dragon Building in the southern city of Tainan, with its floors that pancaked down on each other when the 6.4 magnitude tremor hit at around 4 am, at the start of the holiday.
Ten of the dead, including a 10-day-old girl, were from the apartment building. The baby was found in her dead father's arms, media reported.
Rescuers mounted hydraulic ladders and a crane to scour the ruins, plucking survivors to safety, with hundreds taken to hospital, though many were quickly released.
An 18-year old man was found alive and conscious shortly after dark, and rescuers were working to get him free, while a 30-year-old woman, a nine-year old girl and a male toddler were pulled out alive, Taiwan television said.
Buildings in nine other locations in the city of 2 million people had collapsed and five were left tilting at alarming angles, a government emergency centre said.
But a fire department official said rescue efforts were focused 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."
The quake was centred 43 km south-east of Tainan, at a depth of 23 km, the US Geological Survey said.
The earthquake was a shallow one, which often can prove particularly destructive. The tremors were felt across Taiwan and also across the straits in some southern provinces of mainland China.
Taiwan's President Ma Ying-jeou, was en route to Tainan, a city of some 2 million people.
"The disaster situation is not very clear yet," Mr Ma said, speaking to reporters in the capital before leaving for the disaster scene, "We will do our utmost to rescue and secure [survivors]."
Taiwanese news broadcasts relayed dramatic images of the rescue, which involved more than 1000 emergency workers and firefighters mounting hydraulic ladders and cranes, scaling the collapsed building, with each floor's pillars collapsing at 45-degree angles on top of each other, resembling a folded accordion.
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.
Earthquakes are a frequent occurrence in Taiwan and buildings are generally designed to withstand strong quakes and typhoons, which are also common.
Last year, four earthquakes of at least 6 in magnitude caused only minor damage. A 7.6 magnitude earthquake killed 2400 people in central Taiwan in 1999.