Asia

Taiwan earthquake: Rescuers in frantic search for missing

  • 6 February 2016
  • From the section Asia
Media captionThe BBC's Rupert Wingfield-Hayes has been at the scene of the collapsed apartment building

Rescuers are searching the rubble of a high-rise residential building in southern Taiwan after an earthquake that killed at least 14 people.

Some 30 people are still missing from the 17-storey block, one of several buildings that collapsed in Tainan city when the magnitude 6.4 quake struck.

Among the dead was a newborn baby. Nearly 500 people were injured, at least 92 of whom remain in hospital.

President Ma Ying-jeou has promised an "all-out effort" to rescue people.

More than 800 soldiers have joined in the rescue effort, with the help of hi-tech equipment and rescue dogs.

Shelters would be set up for those who have lost their homes in the city of two million people, the president said when he arrived in Tainan.

Leaning ruins

The 17 storeys of the Weiguan Jinlong (Golden Dragon) apartment complex, home to at least 256 people, crumpled down on each other as the quake took hold just before 04:00 (20:00 GMT on Friday).

Television pictures showed rescuers frantically trying to reach people trapped in the rubble, using ladders to climb over piles of debris.

Media captionDrone footage showed one building felled by the earthquake

More than 200 people were rescued, but a baby, young girl and two adult men were among 12 in the complex who did not survive, officials said. Elsewhere in the city, at least two other victims were killed by falling debris.

At least 30 people are still believed to be trapped inside the collapsed high-rise, although officials warn that more people than usual could have been in the building as families gathered to celebrate Chinese New Year.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image copyright Reuters
Image copyright Reuters

Interior Minister Chen Wei-jen said investigators would examine whether the building's construction met requirements.


At the scene: Rupert Wingfield-Hayes, BBC News

The 17-storey building is lying on its back like a giant uprooted tree. A tangle of steel bars stick out of its base, like snapped off roots.

Part of the building has been completely crushed, but other bits survived the collapse relatively intact.

It is now dark again but rescuers have not given up. There is relief that so far the death toll is low, but there are also questions.

This building was not old; Taiwan lies in one of the world's most active earthquake zones. Buildings like this are supposed to be strong enough to withstand much larger tremors than the 6.4 quake that hit.


Residents told how they were able to escape from their homes in the block.

"I used a hammer to break the door of my home which was twisted and locked, and managed to climb out," one woman told local TV.

Another man tied clothes together to make a rope and lowered himself from the ninth floor to the sixth floor below, Apple Daily reports.

Media captionRescue workers have been trying to free people from collapsed buildings

One Tainan resident said his bed had turned over as the wall collapsed. "My home completely turned into debris. I was really frightened as I have never seen such an earthquake," he said.

A 35-year-old woman described how she and her two children were pulled from the rubble.

"Rescue workers broke through (the building) layer by layer. And they asked us to climb out but I said my children are too small to climb. So they dug a bigger hole. Then one rescue worker tried his best to climb in and take the children out. Then I slowly climbed out myself," she said.

Image copyright EPA
Image copyright Reuters
Image copyright Reuters

The quake was shallow, meaning its effects would have been amplified, the US Geological Survey said.

There have also been at least five aftershocks. The quake was felt in the capital Taipei, 300km away.

Although the damage does not appear to be widespread, a number of tall buildings have been left leaning precariously.

Taiwan lies near the junction of two tectonic plates and often sees tremors.

China has offered assistance although at the moment at least, given the relatively limited scale of the disaster, it does not look as if much outside help is needed, the BBC's John Sudworth reports from Beijing.

Back in 1999, when a 7.6 magnitude quake killed more than 2,300 people in central Taiwan, a similar offer of help from the mainland became embroiled in political wrangling, with Taiwan accusing China of exploiting the situation for its own political ends, our correspondent adds.


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