Rescuers have pulled more survivors from the remains of a high-rise apartment block which collapsed in Taiwan after a powerful earthquake. Many remain buried in the ruins, as hopes of finding survivors grow dim.
The death toll after the quake in southern Taiwan rose to 34 as emergency workers dug for survivors of the 6.4-magnitude quake that toppled a 16-story complex of almost 100 homes in the city of Tainan. The government confirmed that at least 171 people had been rescued alive from the building.
Meanwhile the Tainan Disaster Emergency Center estimated that about 118 people were still trapped there, many presumed to be at the bottom of the wreckage.
Two of the trapped, a man and a woman at different sides of the building, were reportedly communicating with rescue workers on Sunday evening, raising hopes that survivors could still be found under the debris. Emergency workers used cranes, ladders and sniffer dogs, hoping to dig out further survivors.
Officials said an investigation had been launched into the safety of the residential units in the complex. Local media reported that the construction company that had built the complex in 1989 had gone out of business, raising questions over the quality of the materials used. The collapsed apartment building was home to about 250 people in 96 households.
Rising number of survivors
Several survivors were pulled from the rubble more than 24 hours after the quake struck, as rescuers urged those still trapped to remain strong in a race against time. Among those rescued was 20-year-old Mao Yi-chen, who was pulled out soon after the quake hit before dawn on February 6. Her older sister Mao Yi-hsuan was pulled out a day later and remained in a serious condition.
Among the fatalities was a 6-month-old baby pulled from the rubble and rushed to a hospital, where she was pronounced dead. A deceased man believed to be her father was pulled out 40 minutes later. The Tainan Disaster Emergency Center said that at least 30 of the confirmed deaths from the earthquake were from this building's collapse.
While much of the rescue effort focused on the collapsed apartment block, nine other buildings have also fallen elsewhere in the city. More than 100 people were rescued from other parts of Tainan, eight of whom had to receive hospital treatment.
The quake struck at a shallow depth of 10 kilometers (six miles) at around 4:00 am local time on Saturday morning (2000 UTC/GMT on Friday), with its epicenter located 39 kilometers northeast of the island's second-largest city of Kaohsiung.
Chinese New Year
With Sunday marking the eve of the Lunar New Year and the beginning of Chinese New Year celebrations, the most important family holiday in the Chinese calendar, the mood in Taiwan ahead of the celebrations appeared to be rather subdued after the quake. President Ma Ying-jeou and president-elect Tsai Ing-wen both canceled the traditional handing out of envelopes of cash in their hometowns, a holiday tradition upheld by Taiwan's leader.
Earthquakes frequently rattle Taiwan, as the island lies near the junction of two tectonic plates. Most tremors cause little or no damage, however, a magnitude-7.6 quake in central Taiwan in 1999 killed about 2,400 people.
ss/bw (AP, AFP, dpa)