5 dead, hundreds rescued and injured as quake rattles Taiwan

A baby boy is rescued from a collapsed building after an earthquake in Tainan, Taiwan, Saturday, Feb. 6, 2016. (Wally Santana)

A powerful, shallow earthquake struck southern Taiwan before dawn Saturday, collapsing a high-rise residential complex and killing at least five people and injuring hundreds. At least 230 people were pulled out from rubble, as rescuers raced against time to find dozens of others unaccounted for.

More than 1,200 firefighters and soldiers in the worst-hit Tainan city scrambled with ladders, cranes and other equipment to the ruins of a 17-floor residential building that folded like an accordion in a pile of rubble and twisted metal. Local media said the building included a care center for newborns and mothers.

The central disaster response center said five people were killed, including four at the high-rise. One victim was a 10-day-old.

The fifth death was caused by falling objects at a water tower. Another 378 people were injured, the disaster response center said.

The Wei Guan residential tower was home to 256 people living in 96 units. According to the disaster response center, 230 of them were rescued and 26 unaccounted for, although it was unclear how many people were inside the building at the time of the fall.

The news website ET Today reported that a mother and a daughter were among the survivors from the Wei Guan building, and that the girl drank her urine while waiting for rescue, which came sooner than expected.

Dozens more people have been rescued or safely evacuated from a market and a seven-floor building that was badly damaged, the official China Central News Agency reported. A bank building also careened, but no injuries were reported, it said.

Most people were caught asleep when temblor struck about 4 a.m. local time (2000 GMT Friday). It was located some 22 miles (35 kilometers) southeast of Yujing, and struck about 6 miles (10 kilometers) underground, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

As dawn broke, live Taiwanese TV showed survivors being brought gingerly from the high-rise, including an elderly woman in a neck brace and others wrapped in blankets. The trappings of daily life - a partially crushed air conditioner, pieces of a metal balcony, windows - lay twisted in rubble.

People with their arms around firefighters were being helped from the building, and cranes were being used to search darkened parts of the structure for survivors. Newscasters said other areas of the city were still being canvassed for possible damage.

Men in camouflage, apparently military personnel, marched into one area of collapse carrying large shovels.

The disaster response center said 1,236 rescuers were deployed, including 840 from the army, along with six helicopters and 23 rescue dogs.

The quake was felt as a lengthy, rolling shake in the capital, Taipei, on the other side of the island. But Taipei was quiet, with no sense of emergency or obvious damage just before dawn.

Residents in mainland China also reported that the tremor was felt there.

Questions were being asked if the construction crew had cut corners when building the Wei Guan residential complex that was finished in 1989. The interior minister, Chen Wei-zen, said an investigation would examine if the developer skirted requirements.

Earthquakes frequently rattle Taiwan, but most are minor and cause little or no damage.

However, a magnitude-7.6 earthquake in central Taiwan in 1999 killed more than 2,300 people.
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