The death toll was rising in the historic city of Tainan, which bore the brunt of the 6.4-magnitude quake, as rescuers scoured rubble for survivors.
Nearly 340 people were rescued from the rubble in Tainan, the city hit worst by the quake. About 2,000 firefighters and soldiers scrambled with ladders, cranes and other equipment to the ruins of the 17-floor residential building, which folded like an accordion onto its side after the quake struck.
Local authorities said Saturday night that more than 100 people remained missing and that rescuers were racing to find them. Taiwan’s official Central News Agency reported that 172 people were missing.
An entire residential complex of four buildings containing almost 100 homes toppled, left on its side with twisted metal girders exposed and clouds of dust rising from the jumbled concrete.
The official CNA news agency reported that the quake killed 14 people and injured 484 others, according to statistics by Taiwan’s rescue authorities. Most of the injured had been released from hospitals by Saturday night.
CNA said 153 people remained missing and that rescuers were racing to find them. Taiwan’s SETV reported that 101 adults and 41 children were missing. The number of missing was expected to drop because some of those listed might have been listed twice, hospitalized or not in the building at the time of the quake.
Rescuer Jian Zhengshun said the rescue work was difficult because part of the high-rise building was believed to be buried underground, with the quake loosening the earth. He said rescuers had to clear rubble for passages to reach people who were trapped.
Rescuers found the bodies of a 10-day-old infant, three other children and six adults at the collapsed building, the information center said. One other death was reported at the site, but details were not immediately available.
Authorities said two people were killed by falling objects elsewhere in Tainan.
Officials said four buildings collapsed in the quake which struck the island in the early hours of the morning, but rescue efforts are centring on the tower block that tumbled onto its side.
Firefighters pulled survivors from the twisted concrete, trying to access apartments through windows and scaling the rubble with ladders.
Around 800 troops have been mobilised to help the rescue effort, with sniffer dogs also searching through the rubble.
The baby, a man and a woman were pulled dead from the block, officials said, with 29 residents taken to hospital.
“These three people showed no signs of life before they were sent to the hospital,” said Lin Kuan-cheng, spokesman for the National Fire Agency.
“The search and rescue work continues there, home by home.”
Residents at the felled Wei-kuan Building told of their terror as the quake hit, with survivors pulled bleeding and crying from the ruins, some just in their underwear.
“I saw buildings shake up and down and left and right,” said one resident. “The first and second floor just collapsed,” he told local channel SET TV. Another man tied his clothes together to create a rope and lowered himself from his home on the ninth floor to the sixth floor below, Apple Daily reported.
One woman told how she had fought her way out of her home.
“I used a hammer to break the door of my home which was twisted and locked, and managed to climb out,” she told SET TV, weeping as she spoke.
Rescuers have freed more than 250 people from the apartment complex, with over 40 of them hospitalised.
Interior minister Chen Wei-jen said he feared there may be more people in the building than usual as family members would have returned to celebrate the Lunar New Year holidays next week.
“We are concerned that most members of those families may have returned for the coming new year holiday,” he said.
Heartfelt appeals for the missing were posted on social media. “My friend in Wei-kuan is currently missing. His brother is waiting at the scene and other relatives are at the hospital looking among those injured. If anyone has related news, please get in touch,” one user called applexgreen posted on Taiwan’s popular PTT forum.
Another named Ahan asked for information on a family of three with a two-year-old son who lived on the seventh floor of the building.
“My mother is the child’s nanny. We haven’t been able to get in contact,” the post said.
Officials were unable to give an estimate of how many were still trapped as they scoured the building.
As dawn broke, live Taiwanese TV showed survivors being brought gingerly from the building, 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 what appeared to be nearby 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.
One woman told how she had fought her way out of her home in one of the collapsed blocks.
“I used a hammer to break the door of my home which was twisted and locked, and managed to climb out,” she told local channel SET TV, weeping as she spoke.
Men in camouflage uniforms, apparently military personnel, marched into one area of collapse carrying large shovels.
Aerial images of at least two different buildings showed what appeared to be significant devastation. It was unclear if both were residential structures.
The Taiwanese news website ET Today reported a mother and a daughter were among the 34 people pulled from one of the Wei Guan buildings and that the girl drank her urine while waiting for rescue, which came sooner than expected.
The temblor struck about 4am local time. It was located some 36km southeast of Yujing, and struck about 10km underground, according to the US Geological Survey.
It 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.
Officials said there were 256 people registered as living in the complex, which contained 96 apartments.
Dazed and exhausted residents stood outside the toppled buildings, watching rescue workers free survivors — from infants to the elderly, some strapped to stretchers — and carefully hand them down ladders.
Cranes towered over the disaster zone with diggers trying to move slabs of concrete.
Eight shelters have been set up around the city, with over 100 people taking refuge there, while restaurants and hotels offered free food and rooms to residents.
“The buildings collapsed, but Tainan will stand again! Please treat here like your temporary home, rest well and freshen up. You aren’t alone,” said one Tainan hotel called Adagio Travel on its Facebook page.
Separately, at least 30 people were earlier freed from another residential seven-storey tower.
Officials said several blocks had collapsed or half collapsed in other parts of the city, with some buildings left leaning at alarming angles.
Across Tainan, more than 400 people were injured, with over 60 hospitalised. Around 400,000 had been left without water, authorities said, and more than 2,000 homes are still without electricity.
China has offered rescue assistance if needed, according to state news agency Xinhua.
The quake struck at a depth of 10 kilometres (six miles) at around 4:00am (2000 GMT Friday), 39 kilometres northeast of Kaohsiung, Taiwan’s second-largest city.
Taiwan lies near the junction of two tectonic plates and is regularly hit by earthquakes.
The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said a destructive Pacific-wide tsunami was not expected.
A strong 6.3-magnitude quake which hit central Taiwan in June 2013 killed four people and caused widespread landslides.
A 7.6-magnitude quake struck the island in September 1999 and killed around 2400 people.