TAIPEI: A powerful earthquake in Taiwan felled a 16-storey apartment complex full of families who had gathered for Lunar New Year celebrations in the early hours of Saturday, with at least 11 dead and more than 30 feared trapped.
The death toll was rising Saturday afternoon in the historic city of Tainan, which bore the brunt of the 6.4-magnitude quake in the early hours of the morning, as rescuers scoured rubble for survivors.
An entire residential complex of four buildings containing almost 100 homes toppled to the ground, lying on its side with twisted metal girders exposed and clouds of dust rising from the jumbled concrete.
Among the seven dead was a 10-day old baby girl, the National Fire Agency said—she was one of five victims who were killed when the apartment complex collapsed.
The other two fatalities died in different parts of the city by falling debris, the agency said.
Officials say they are unsure how many residents may still be inside, but media reports estimated at least 30 could be trapped.
Around 400 troops have been mobilized to help the rescue effort.
Residents at the 16-storey felled Wei-kuan Building told of their terror as the quake hit, with survivors pulled bleeding and crying from the ruins, some just in their underwear.
“I saw buildings shake up and down and left and right,” said one resident.
“The first and second floor just collapsed and I smelt gas and water was leaking,” he told local channel SET TV.
Another man tied his clothes together to create a rope and lowered himself from his home on the ninth floor to the sixth floor below, Apple Daily reported.
One woman told how she had fought her way out of her home.
“I used a hammer to break the door of my home which was twisted and locked, and managed to climb out,” she told SET TV, weeping as she spoke.
Rescuers have freed more than 200 people from the apartment complex, with over 40 of them hospitalized.
Interior minister Chen Wei-jen said he feared there may be more people in the building than usual as family members would have returned to celebrate the Lunar New Year holidays next week.
“Exactly how many people were there when the quake hit was not immediately clear,” said Chen.
“We are concerned that most members of those families may have returned for the coming new year holiday.”
Officials said there were 256 people registered as living in the complex, which contained 96 apartments.
Dazed and exhausted residents stood outside the toppled buildings, watching rescue workers free survivors—from infants to the elderly, some strapped to stretchers —and carefully hand them down ladders.
“(The building) shook up and down. I was terrified and my wife and I held each other. We thought we weren’t going to make it,” one resident told TVBS.
As Premier Chang San-cheng visited the disaster zone, one elderly woman wept, saying her son, daughter-in-law and grandchildren were still trapped on the 15th floor, Apple Daily reported.
Cranes towered over the zone with diggers trying to remove slabs of concrete. Separately, at least 30 people were earlier freed from another residential seven-storey building, with officials saying several blocks had collapsed or half collapsed in other parts of the city.