Taiwan earthquake: 132 people feared trapped deeper under rubble, official says

A total of 132 people are still trapped beneath the rubble of a Taiwan apartment tower that collapsed in a powerful earthquake, a local government official says.

The figure is much higher than authorities first estimated, as rescuers combed the wreckage of the 17-storey building in the southern city of Tainan with sniffer dogs and acoustic equipment, looking for signs of life.

Rescue crews believed 29 of those still trapped could be reached more easily than the rest who were buried deeper in the rubble, the Tainan city official said.

More than 250 people have so far been rescued from the Wei-kuan apartment complex in the southern city of Tainan since the magnitude-6.4 quake hit at 4:00am Saturday local time (7:00am AEDT),killing 14 people and toppling four blocks of about 100 homes in total.

The cluster of buildings in the historic southern city of Tainan were full of families who had gathered for Lunar New Year celebrations.

Among the dead were a 10-day-old baby girl and two other children. Across Tainan and surrounding counties, more than 400 people were injured, with 100 still in hospital.

The national disaster response centre said 56 people remained out of contact with their families in Tainan and surrounding counties.

Around 800 troops have been mobilised to help the rescue effort at Wei-kuan.

A senior army official at the scene said about 20 people were still trapped in one of the buildings.

Rescuers continued to search for survivors through the night.

“Some rooms in the building were rented to students who would not register with the census authorities — we’re not sure how many others might still be left within,” Tainan’s deputy fire chief Liang Chuan-shun said.

Footage released by emergency workers showed rescuers talking to one trapped 36-year-old woman through the rubble, where she had been pinned down by furniture for 16 hours, before digging her out.

One survivor used a hammer to break out of her crushed home, while another tied clothes together to lower himself to safety, local media reported.

Another woman was extracted alive from the ruins by crane late Saturday.

Taiwan lies near the junction of two tectonic plates and is regularly hit by earthquakes.

The island’s worst quake in recent decades was a magnitude-7.6 tremor in September 1999, which killed about 2,400 people.

Wang Chih-peng, 38, was rescued with his wife and three-year-old daughter.

“I was scared awake by the quake and I held my wife and child until it stopped shaking,” he said.

“We lay on our bed waiting for rescuers because we thought it safer.

“I heard the sound of rescuers approaching and screamed for help and they removed the window to pull us out. I saw the building had tumbled and luckily we were safe.”

Those who escaped told of their terror and relief.

“[When the quake hit], I slid down from my bed and was trapped between the bed and a closet,” resident Su Yi-ming, 48, said.

“I knocked on the closet to get the attention of rescuers who broke the window to get me at around 5:00am. I think I was the first to be rescued.

“My mind went blank when the quake struck, it shook violently and the house just came down. I couldn’t react.”

Mr Su escaped uninjured, with his wife and their two children sustaining minor injuries.

They lived on the sixth floor of one of the collapsed blocks.

“We are very lucky that we are alive but I’m sad that some of my neighbours lost their lives,” Mr Su said.

“When I was brought out I saw many rescuers trying to find people.”

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