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Rescuers search for survivors in southern Taiwan earthquake

Taiwan's Tainan city government has reported 221 people rescued, 154 hospitalized and seven dead after a major earthquake toppled buildings in the early hours of Saturday. Rescue teams are searching through the rubble.

The shallow earthquake struck early on Saturday morning when most people in the southern city of Hainan were asleep. The 6.4 magnitude quake struck at about 4 a.m. local time (2000 UTC). At a depth of just 10 kilometers (six miles), it was followed by a series of aftershocks of 3.8-magnitude or more about half an hour after the intial quake.

Authorities said the death toll had risen to seven with 155 people injured. The news website ET Today reported that 318 people had been taken to hospital.

Taiwan's official news agency said a 10-day-old baby and a 40-year-old man were pulled out of a 16-story Wei Guan residential building and were later declared dead. The 16-story residential complex which contained almost 100 homes had collapsed. Residents described what had happened: "I saw buildings shake up and down and left and right," said one resident, who added, "The first and second floor just collapsed and I smelt gas and water was leaking."

Taiwan Erdbeben

Dozens have already been pulled from the rubble by rescue teams

The quake hit a day before the eve of the Lunar New Year, a time of family celebrations. Interior minister Chen Wei-jen said it was unclear how many people were in the Wei Guan complex, adding, "We are concerned that most members of those families may have returned for the coming New Year holiday."

"Four buildings have collapsed in Tainan City area. Search and rescue is under way," Lin Kuan-cheng, spokesman for the National Fire Agency, told the AFP news agency.

The epicenter of the quake was under the central mountain range of Taiwan, 43 kilometers (27 miles) southeast of Tainan, a city of nearly 2 million people and 38 kilometers (24 miles) northeast of Kaohsiung, the island's main port city.

The Taiwan China Post newspaper said on its website: "Collapsed buildings reported in Tainan, with rescue workers arriving on scene. The city government there has set up a level one emergency response center. Onlookers are urged not to block access to emergency crews moving into the area."

More than 200 firefighters, 1,350 volunteers, 70 trucks and 27 ambulances are involved in the rescue operation. China offered assistance in a letter, which expressed condolences to those who suffered in the quake.

China considers the island of Taiwan to be a province of the People's Republic.

Taiwan Erdbeben

An offfice building in Tainan was among the structures that collapsed

Quake effects

The quake caused significant disruptions. The high-speed rail service was suspended in the southern region while lines were inspected for damage.

It also disrupted 69 power lines and affected more than 121,000 households, according to Taiwan Power.

The effects of the quake were felt throughout the island, including at the concert venue of US rock star Madonna, currently on tour with her band. "We are all ok ... Hope that was the end of it," her manager Guy Oseary wrote on Instagram from Taipei.

Taiwan sits in a zone between the Philippine Sea and Eurasian plates and is seismically active. In 1999 a magnitude 7.6 temblor hit the island's central region, killing about 2,500 people.

jm/gsw (APE, Reuters)

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