TAINAN, Taiwan (AP) — Rescuers raced to find additional survivors after a powerful, shallow earthquake struck southern Taiwan before dawn Saturday and collapsed a high-rise residential complex, killing at least seven people and sending scores to hospitals.
Rescuers pulled 249 survivors from the rubble in the worst-hit city of Tainan, and about eight people remained unaccounted for. More than 1,200 firefighters scrambled with ladders, cranes and other equipment to the ruins of a 17-floor residential building that folded like an accordion onto its side.
Local media said the building included a care center for newborns and mothers, and a newborn was among the dead in the disaster. The quake came two days before the start of Lunar New Year celebrations that mark the most important family holiday in the Chinese calendar.
Most people were caught asleep when the magnitude-6.4 earthquake occurred at about 4 a.m., 22 miles (35 kilometers) southeast of Yujing. It struck only 6 miles (10 kilometers) underground, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
“It first starting shaking horizontally, then up and down, then a big shake right to left,” said Tainan resident Lin Bao-gui, a second-hand car salesman whose cars were smashed when the residential complex across the street from him collapsed.
“I stayed in my bed but jumped up when I heard the big bang that was the sound of the building falling,” he said.
The emergency response center said seven people were killed, including a 10-day-old infant, a small child and at least two other residents inside the high-rise. One death was caused by falling objects. No details were immediately available for the two additional deaths.
Rescuers pulled out 247 survivors from the collapsed Wei Guan residential complex, the emergency center said. Seventy-three people were sent to hospitals, and eight people were unaccounted for, the center said.
The Taiwanese news website ET Today reported that a mother and daughter were among the survivors from the Wei Guan building, and that the girl drank her urine while waiting to be rescued, which happened sooner than expected.
Rescuers went apartment to apartment, drawing red circles near windows of apartments they already had searched.
“I went to the top floors of the middle part of the building, where we found five people, one of whom was in bed and already dead,” said Liu Wen-bin, a 50-year-old rescuer from Taichung. “Some people were found in the shower, some in the bedroom.”
Elsewhere in Tainan, dozens more people were 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.
As dawn broke, 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 about whether the construction crew had cut corners when building the Wei Guan residential complex, which was finished in 1989. Taiwan’s interior minister, Chen Wei-zen, said an investigation would examine whether the developer skirted requirements.
Earthquakes frequently rattle Taiwan, but most are minor and cause little or no damage. However, a magnitude-7.6 quake in central Taiwan in 1999 killed more than 2,300 people.
Associated Press writers Didi Tang and Ian Mader in Beijing contributed to this report.