Taiwan faces aftershocks as death toll rises

A collapsed building is seen in quake-hit Hualien County, Taiwan. Photo: AFP / Xinhua / Yue Yuewei

Taiwan has been hit by a 5.7 magnitude aftershock almost 24 hours after a 6.4 quake that led to the deaths of at least seven people.

The US Geological Survey said the new quake at 11.21pm local time (4.21am in NZ) was 19km northeast of the Hua-lien at a depth of 11 km.

At least seven people were killed and 67 were still missing from the earthquake in the popular tourist city, the government said in a statement.

As well as the dead and missing, about 260 people were injured and four buildings collapsed, officials said.

Many of the missing were believed to be still trapped inside buildings, some of which tilted precariously.

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

Mainland Chinese, Czech, Japanese, Singaporean and South Korean nationals were among the injured.

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

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Rescuers worked their way around and through the building while residents looked on from behind cordoned-off roads. Others spoke of the panic when the earthquake struck.

“This is the worst earthquake in the history of Hualien, or at least over the past 40 years that I’ve been alive,” said volunteer Yang Hsi Hua.

“We’ve never had anything like this, we’ve never had a building topple over. Also, it was constantly shaking, so everyone was really scared, we ran to empty open spaces to avoid it.”

“We were still open when it happened,” said Lin Ching-wen, who operates a restaurant near a damaged military hospital.

“I grabbed my wife and children and we ran out and tried to rescue people,” he said.

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.

Hualien is home to about 100,000 people.

Its streets were buckled by the force of the quake, with around 40,000 homes left without water and about 1900 without power. Water supply had returned to nearly 5000 homes by midday, while power was restored to about 1700 households.

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– Reuters