TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) — Rescuers Wednesday morning were working to reach five people trapped and more than 170 people unaccounted for in several buildings damaged by a strong earthquake near Taiwan's eastern coast.
The shallow and powerful quake late Tuesday night caused at least four buildings in worst-hit Hualien county to cave in and tilt dangerously, killing two people.
Video footage and photos showed several midsized buildings leaning at sharp angles, their lowest floors crushed into mangled heaps of concrete, shattered glass, bent iron beams and other debris. Firefighters could be seen climbing ladders hoisted against windows as they sought to reach residents inside apartments.
The quake injured 219 people, two dozen of them critically, in Hualien county, the National Fire Agency said. The force of the tremor buckled roads and disrupted electricity and water supplies to thousands of households.
The agency said most of the 173 people who could not be reached might be in the Yunmen Cuiti building, a 12-story apartment building, though it said it did not immediately have an estimate of how many were trapped.
A hotel employee died when the ground floor caved in at the Marshal Hotel, and another person died in a residential building, the agency reported.
A maintenance worker who was rescued after being trapped in the hotel's basement said the force of the earthquake was unusual.
"At first it wasn't that big ... we get this sort of thing all the time and it's really nothing. But then it got really terrifying," Chen Ming-hui said after he was reunited with his son and grandson. "It was really scary."
Other buildings shifted on their foundations due to the magnitude-6.4 quake late Tuesday and rescuers used ladders, ropes and cranes to get residents to safety.
Taiwanese media reported that a separate hotel known as the Beautiful Life Hotel was tilting. Taiwan's Central News Agency also posted photos showing a road fractured in several parts.
Bridges and some highways were closed pending inspections after buckling due to the force of the quake.
With aftershocks continuing through the night, residents were being directed to shelters, including a newly built baseball stadium, where beds and hot food were provided.
Speaking from a crisis center in Taipei, Cabinet spokesman Hsu Kuo-yung said rail links appeared to be unaffected and the runway of Hualien airport was intact.
"We're putting a priority on Hualien people being able to return home to check on their loved ones," Hsu said.
Schools and offices in Hualien County were to be closed Wednesday, the official Central News Agency said, citing the county government.
The U.S. Geological Survey said the magnitude-6.4 quake struck just before midnight Tuesday about 21 kilometers (13 miles) northeast of Hualien at a relatively shallow depth of about 10.6 kilometers (6.6 miles).
Taiwan has frequent earthquakes due to its position along the "Ring of Fire," the seismic faults encircling the Pacific Ocean where most of the world's earthquakes occur.
Exactly two years earlier, a magnitude-6.4 quake collapsed an apartment complex in southern Taiwan, causing the deaths of 115 people. Five people involved in the construction of the complex were later found guilty of negligence and given prison sentences.
A magnitude-7.6 quake in central Taiwan killed more than 2,300 people in 1999.
Bodeen reported from Beijing.