7 Feb 2018

Fatal quake kills two in Taiwan

11:54 am on 7 February 2018

A 6.4 magnitude earthquake has struck 22km north-northeast of Hua-lien in Taiwan, 9.4km deep, the US Geological Survey recorded.

Rescue workers search through rubble outside the Marshal Hotel

Rescue workers search through rubble outside the Marshal Hotel Photo: AFP

The earthquake struck at 11:50pm local time, about 4.50am in New Zealand.

Taiwan's government confirmed at least two people had been killed.

"Two people were unfortunately killed, and 114 have suffered light or severe injuries," Taiwan's Premier William Lai told an emergency government meeting.

An official from the Ministry of Interior's fire station division said people were trapped in the buildings in Hualien.

"The president [Tsai Ing-wen] has asked the cabinet and related ministries to immediately launch the 'disaster mechanism' and to work at the fastest rate on disaster relief work," the president's office said in a statement.

In particular, two hotels were reported to have been tilted by the quake.

BBC Taipei correspondent Cindy Sui said the hotel which had collapsed on its columns and is tipped over at about 45 degrees was the 300-room Marshal Hotel.

"What we're hearing right now is that in the city of Hua-lien in eastern Taiwan several buildings have collapsed or are near collapsing. One of them is a hotel, called the Marshall Hotel."

"We have heard from the defence ministry spokesman that they have sent ... 88 soldiers, to assist the fire department out there and the local media are reporting that there might be many people trapped in this hotel.

"We're also hearing that there might be a hot pot restaurant that has also collapsed.

"The military said that the reports that a military hospital had collapsed, they're said they had yet to confirm, that they had not heard that."

"From the images shown on TV, it looks like the hotel hasn't collapsed yet but its tilted very, very severely on one side towards the street and some of the lower floors seem to be crushed.

"We're seeing images on TV that the're trying to get into some of the upper floors with ladders and there also are soldiers assisting them.

"About 250 soldiers are on standby to assist."

The government said a bridge in the city could not be used, and the structure of a hotel had tilted during the earthquake.

Mr Lai said the government was urgently repairing a major highway damaged by the quake.

The government said two bridges in the city were either cracked or could not be used due to the quake.

There have also been several aftershocks above magnitude 5, and an earlier quake of magnitude 6.1 struck nearby on Sunday.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade said its office in Taipei was monitoring the situation closely.

It said 80 New Zealanders were currently registered on SafeTravel as being in Taiwan.

The ministry said it had received no requests for consular assistance.

Hua-lien is a popular tourist destination on Taiwan's eastern coast and home to about 100,000 people.

Taiwan, a self-ruled island that China considers part of its territory, is prone to earthquakes. Sitting near two plate boundaries, it is part of the Pacific "ring of fire".

More than 100 people were killed in a quake in southern Taiwan in 2016, while a 7.6 magnitude quake hit in 1999 that was felt across the island and killed more than 2000 people.

- RNZ / Reuters