A powerful, shallow earthquake struck southern Taiwan before dawn Saturday, collapsing two high-rise residential towers and killing at least five people and injuring hundreds. More than 220 people were pulled out from rubble, as rescuers raced against time to find dozens of others unaccounted for.
Firefighters and soldiers in worst-hit Tainan city scrambled with ladders, cranes and other equipment to the two towers that folded like an accordion in a pile of rubble and twisted metal and extracted dazed survivors.
Local media said the building complex included a care center for newborns and mothers.
The emergency response center told The Associated Press that five people were killed, including a 10-day-old infant and a 40-year-old man. They were pulled out of a 17-story Wei Guan residential building and later declared dead.
Local media said a woman was killed in a water tower collapse in another city district, and no information was immediately available for the two other deaths. The Health Ministry reported 318 people have been hospitalized.
One of the two towers was home to 256 people living in 92 units, according to the official Central News Agency. A second 16-story high-rise nearby also collapsed, and more than 30 survivors have been pulled out from there. It wasn’t clear how many others were still trapped.
The news website ET Today reported that a mother and a daughter were among the survivors from the Wei Guan building, and that the girl drank her urine while waiting for rescue, which came sooner than expected.
Dozens more people have been rescued or safely evacuated from a market and a seven-floor building that was badly damaged, the news agency reported. A bank building also careened, but no injuries were reported, it said.
Most people were caught asleep when temblor struck about 4 a.m. local time (2000 GMT Friday). It was located some 22 miles (36 kilometers) southeast of Yujing, and struck about 6 miles (10 kilometers) underground, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
As dawn broke, live Taiwanese TV showed survivors being brought gingerly from the high-rise, including an elderly woman in a neck brace and others wrapped in blankets. The trappings of daily life — a partially crushed air conditioner, pieces of a metal balcony, windows — lay twisted in rubble.
People with their arms around firefighters were being helped from the building, and cranes were being used to search darkened parts of the structure for survivors. Newscasters said other areas of the city were still being canvassed for possible damage.
Men in camouflage, apparently military personnel, marched into one area of collapse carrying large shovels.
The quake was felt as a lengthy, rolling shake in the capital, Taipei, on the other side of the island. But Taipei was quiet, with no sense of emergency or obvious damage just before dawn.
Residents in mainland China also reported that the tremor was felt there.
Questions started to rise if the construction crew had cut corners when building the Wei Guan residential complex that was finished in 1989. The Home Department minister said an investigation would examine if the developer skirted requirements.
Earthquakes frequently rattle Taiwan, but most are minor and cause little or no damage.
However, a magnitude-7.6 earthquake in central Taiwan in 1999 killed more than 2,300 people.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.