A powerful earthquake has struck southern Taiwan. A number of buildings have collapsed in the city of Tainan, including two residential high-rise blocks. Rescue operations are underway.
At least three people have been reported killed by the earthquake, which struck with a magnitude of 6.4 at about 4 a.m. local time (2000 UTC) when most people were asleep. Dozens have also been injured in the disaster.
The epicenter of the earthquake was underneath 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 Tainan city government said 221 people have been rescued so far, with 115 hospitalized. A 10-day-old baby and a 50-year-old man were the confirmed deaths from the 17-story Wei Guan apartment-block collapse. A 55-year-old woman was also reported killed.
The shallow quake struck at a depth of 10 kilometers (six miles). There were a series of aftershocks of 3.8-magnitude or more about half an hour after the initial quake.
"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 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."
Power to 168,000 households in Tainan was lost in the immediate aftermath of the quake but utility Taipower said electricity had been restored to all but about 900 households. Some bullet train services were suspended while tracks were inspected for damage.
Residential buildings that collapsed in Tainan included multi-story buildings in which dozens of victims were trapped. Rescue operations are ongoing in the area, with many people being pulled alive from the rubble.
There are an estimated 100 earthquakes ranging in magnitude from 6.1 to 6.9 per year, and they can cause significant damage when occurring in heavily populated areas.
In 1999 a magnitude 7.6 temblor hit the island's central region, killing about 2,500 people.
gsw/jm (AP, Reuters, dpa, AFP)