TAIPEI: Rescuers combed through the rubble of collapsed buildings on Wednesday (Feb 7), some using their hands as they searched for 67 people missing after a strong earthquake killed at least six near the popular Taiwanese tourist city of Hualien overnight.
The magnitude 6.4 quake, which hit near the coastal city just before midnight (1600 GMT) on Tuesday, also injured at least 258 people, officials said.
Hualien Mayor Fu Kun-chi said the number of people missing was now close to 60, although an exact figure was not provided. As many as 150 were initially feared missing.
Many of those were believed to be still trapped inside buildings, some of which were tilting precariously, after the quake hit about 22 km (14 miles) northeast of Hualien on Taiwan's east coast.
Local media reports cited Taiwan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs as saying that the 31 foreigners affected included two Singaporeans, 14 South Koreans, nine Japanese, two Czechs, and one Filipino. Nationalities of the other three have not been confirmed, said the ministry.
The two Singaporeans and 13 of the Koreans were in a temporary shelter at a stadium in Hualien, said reports. None of the Singaporeans have been reported injured, the Singapore Ministry of Foreign Affairs has confirmed.
The other 16 foreigners were treated for various injuries at four different hospitals in the Hualien area. The injuries ranged from wrist and foot injuries to dry powder inhalation, said the ministry.
Aftershocks with a magnitude of at least 5.0 could rock the island in the next two weeks, the government said. Smaller tremors rattled nervous residents throughout the day.
Residents waited and watched anxiously as emergency workers dressed in fluorescent orange and red suits and wearing helmets searched for residents trapped in apartment blocks.
Hualien is home to about 100,000 people. Its streets were buckled by the force of the quake, with around 40,000 homes left without water and around 1,900 without power. Water supply had returned to nearly 5,000 homes by noon (0400 GMT), while power was restored to around 1,700 households.
The Hualien quake is one of many earthquakes and volcanic eruptions to hit Asia and Alaska in recent months, along the Pacific Ring of Fire.
Last month, a powerful quake hit the Gulf of Alaska; a relatively shallow magnitude-6 quake struck off Indonesia's Java; and the sudden eruption of Mount Kasatsu-Shirane in Japan killed one person and injured at least 11.
In the Philippines, Mount Mayon continued to erupt, sending lava and larger plumes of ash higher into the sky, while in Japan, a magnitude 6.2 earthquake struck off the the island of Honshu, not far from Hokkaido island. Mount Agung in eastern Bali also remained on alert for a major eruption.
Emergency workers surrounded a damaged residential building in the area. Windows had collapsed and the building was wedged into the ground at a 40-degree angle.
Rescuers worked their way around and through the building while residents looked on from behind cordoned-off roads. Others spoke of the panic when the earthquake struck.
"We were still open when it happened," said Lin Ching-wen, who operates a restaurant near a damaged military hospital.
"I grabbed my wife and children and we ran out and tried to rescue people," he said.
A Reuters video showed large cracks in the road, while police and emergency services tried to help anxious people roaming the streets. A car sat submerged in rubble as rescue workers combed through the ruins of a nearby building.
President Tsai Ing-wen went to the scene of the quake early on Wednesday to help direct rescue operations.
"The president has asked the cabinet and related ministries to immediately launch the 'disaster mechanism' and to work at the fastest rate on disaster relief work," Tsai's office said in a statement.
Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co, the world's largest contract chipmaker and major Apple supplier, said initial assessments indicated no impact from the earthquake.
Taiwan, a self-ruled island that China considers part of its territory, lies near the junction of two tectonic plates and is prone to earthquakes. An earthquake with a magnitude of 6.1 struck nearby on Sunday.
More than 100 people were killed in a quake in southern Taiwan in 2016, and some Taiwanese remain scarred by a 7.6 magnitude quake that was felt across the island and killed more than 2,000 people in 1999.