At Least 14 Dead and 100 Missing After Quake Topples Apartment Tower in Taiwan

A powerful 6.4 magnitude earthquake caused a high-rise building in the southern city of Tainan to collapse and crumple onto its side.
February 6, 2016, 3:40pm
Photo by Pichi Chuang

At least 14 people are dead and more than 100 are still missing after a powerful earthquake shook southern Taiwan on Saturday morning, causing a high-rise building in the city of Tainan to collapse and crumple onto its side.

As the sun started to set on Saturday evening in the southern city of Tainan, rescuers in orange, red, and yellow jumpsuits were still digging through the rubble of the Wei-Guan Golden Dragon Building. Authorities say hundreds have been injured, and the dead include a 10-year-old girl and a newborn baby. Most of the victims were residents of the apartment building, who were sleeping when the 6.4 magnitude earthquake rattled the southern part of the island nation.

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Video footage from a beauty shop's surveillance camera showed the walls trembling 20 minutes before the earthquake struck in full force.

"My home completely turned into debris," one Tainan resident told the BBC. "I didn't know what was happening. I was really frightened as I have never seen such an earthquake."

The Wei-Guan Golden Dragon Building is a 17-floor structure that has 256 regular tenants, but authorities fear the number of people affected may be far more. The start of the festivities marking the Lunar New Year — an important family holiday — had just begun, meaning many of the building's residents may have been hosting friends and relatives. There is also a center for new mothers and newborn babies in the building.

Here's the sort of damage a 6.4 — Jonah Blank (@JonahBlank)February 5, 2016

Mayhem due to — Critically Your's? (@thebakwaashour)February 6, 2016

The emergency management information center reports that rescuers have pulled out at least 247 survivors from the building's rubble. Throughout the city, more than 334 people have been rescued.

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Rescuers drew red circles near windows of apartments they had already searched. "I went to the top floors of the middle part of the building, where we found five people, one of whom was in bed and already dead," 50-year-old rescuer Liu Wen-bin told the Associated Press. "Some people were found in the shower, some in the bedroom."

A local resident, who gave his name as Chang, lives across the road from the high rise. He said he was watching TV at the time of the quake. "After a sudden burst of shaking, I heard a boom. I opened my metal door and saw the building opposite fall down," he told Reuters.

The way that the building, which was erected in 1989, easily collapsed is raising questions about its structural integrity. Liu Shih-chung, Tainan's deputy secretary general, said that footage of the ruins suggest that low-quality reinforced steel and cement may have been determining factors in the collapse. However, city officials say it's too early to conclusively blame poor construction. Taiwan's Interior Minister Chen Wui-zen has promised that an investigation will assess whether the building's developers are at fault.

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Taiwan is located in the "Pacific Ring of Fire," a horseshoe-shaped region known for its geological activity. About 90 percent of the world's earthquakes and 81 percent of the world's largest earthquakes occur along this region, which is a series of converging plate boundaries, which have created oceanic trenches and volcanoes as a result.

The small island nation is accustomed to earthquakes rolling through, but most come and go with little impact. In 1999, an earthquake with a magnitude of 7.6 rattled central Taiwan and left more than 2,300 people dead.

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