TAIPEI – Rescue teams in Taiwan were searching on Wednesday for survivors after a magnitude-6.4 earthquake hit the eastern city of Hualien the night before, killing seven people, injuring 256 and leaving 76 missing.
The rescue work was being carried out by 644 soldiers and 750 personnel from the police and the fire services using earth moving equipment, along with detection equipment to search the ruins for signs of life, Prime Minister Lai Ching-te said.
Search teams have rescued 227 people, according to figures provided by the Central Emergency Operation Center.
The prime minister announced aid worth NT$300 million ($10.2 million) for the victims and their families, including compensation for accommodation and medical treatment.
“We will not rest until all are found,” Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen said on her official Twitter account.
The earthquake damaged many structures, including buildings and bridges, although the prime minister stressed that repair work had already begun and said he expected a swift return to normalcy.
The most affected buildings include the Hotel Tongshuai, where the lower floors collapsed trapping three employees, two of whom were rescued alive after 15 hours while the third was killed.
The injured include 33 foreigners, the emergency center reported.
The Yunmen Cuidi residential-commercial building, which also housed a restaurant, was severely damaged and tilted almost 45 degrees.
Two hospitals, the Meilun Hotel and another building were also leaning precariously after the tremors while cracks developed in hundreds of structures and some streets.
The areas hardest-hit by the quake were near Hualien although the tremors, which struck at 11:50 pm, were felt all over the island and forced people out of their homes.
The epicenter of the earthquake was 18.3 kilometers (11.3 miles) northeast of Hualien.
Taiwan has registered hundreds of tremors of varying intensities since the weekend, including a magnitude-6.1 jolt on Sunday – unusual for Taiwan – sparking speculation about the possibility of a strong earthquake.
Taiwanese seismologists consider it possible that the island’s surroundings, especially the Ryukyu trench, might experience an earthquake more powerful than magnitude 8 within a 10-year period.
Taiwan was hit by a magnitude-7.6 quake in 1999 which killed 2,415 people.