The desperate search for victims of a powerful earthquake that killed at least ten people near Taiwan’s popular tourist city of Hualien has been hampered by another strong tremor late Wednesday night.
Rescuers are combing through the rubble of collapsed buildings in a search for 67 people still missing after a magnitude 6.4 quake hit near the coastal city just before midnight on Tuesday.
At least 260 people were injured in the quake, which caused several large buildings to collapse, officials said.
It was initially feared as many as 150 people may have been missing in the rubble. The death toll had been put at seven overnight.
Many of the missing were believed to be trapped in a 12-storey residential building that was tilting at a 45-degree angle. Tenants and their furniture were flung across their apartments in the damaged building.
Hualien is home to about 100,000 people. Its streets were buckled by the force of the quake, with large cracks along major roads.
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
As emergency workers – including 600 military personnel and more than 750 firefighters – searched for survivors, a 5.7 magnitude aftershock shook the site.
At the city’s Marshal Hotel, rescuers trying to free two trapped Taiwanese pulled one out alive, but the other person was declared dead, the government said.
A total of 31 foreign nationals, including mainland Chinese, Czechs, Japanese, Singaporeans and South Koreans were among the injured, the foreign ministry said.
Pope Francis expressed his “solidarity with all those affected” in a statement from the Vatican.
“This is the worst earthquake in the history of Hualien, or at least over the past 40 years that I’ve been alive,” said volunteer Yang Hsi Hua.
“We’ve never had anything like this, we’ve never had a building topple over. Also, it was constantly shaking, so everyone was really scared, we ran to empty open spaces to avoid it.”
There have been more than 160 aftershocks since the earthquake, with more expected over the next two weeks, according to Taiwain’s Central Weather Bureau.
Water supply had returned to nearly 5000 homes by noon, while power was restored to around 1700 households.
Emergency workers surrounded a badly damaged 12-storey residential building, a major focus of the rescue effort. Windows had collapsed and the building was wedged into the ground at a roughly 40-degree angle.
Rescuers worked their way around and through the building while residents looked on from behind cordons.
President Tsai Ing-wen went to the scene of the quake early on Wednesday to help direct rescue operations.
Taiwan is regularly rocked by earthquakes. A magnitude 6.4 quake in 2016 claimed 40 lives, while the biggest earthquake in recent memory – a magnitude 7.3 tremor – killed 2400 people in 1999.