TAINAN, Taiwan, Feb 6 (Reuters) - A powerful earthquake toppled a 17-story apartment building in southern Taiwan on Saturday, killing at least five people, including a 10-day-old girl, and triggering frantic efforts to rescue about 35 people feared trapped inside.
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The baby and three of the other dead were from the collapsed building, a complex of towers whose floors pancaked down onto to each other when the 6.4 magnitude tremor hit at around 4 a.m. (2000 GMT), at the start of a Lunar New Year holiday.
Rescuers mounted hydraulic ladders and a crane to scour the wreckage, plucking 221 survivors to safety so far, with dozens taken to hospital, a fire brigade official said.
Elsewhere in the city of 2 million people, several buildings tilted at alarming angles but a fire department official said rescue efforts were now focused entirely on the apartment block, where a child's clothes fluttered from a first-floor laundry line and the smell of leaking gas hung in the air.
"I was watching TV and after a sudden burst of shaking, I heard a boom. I opened my metal door and saw the building opposite fall down," said a 71-year-old neighbor who gave his name as Chang.
See images from the scene:
A plumber, he said he fetched some tools and a ladder and prised some window bars open to rescue a woman crying for help.
"She asked me to go back and rescue her husband, child, but I was afraid of a gas explosion so I didn't go in. At the time there were more people calling for help, but my ladder wasn't long enough so there was no way to save them."
The quake was centered 27 miles (43 km) southeast of Tainan, at a depth of 23 km (14 miles), the U.S. Geological Survey said. Several aftershocks shook Tainan, Taiwan's weather bureau said.
One elderly woman, wrapped in blankets, was strapped to a board and slowly slid down a ramp to the ground as the cries of those still trapped rang out. Rescuers used dogs and acoustic equipment to pick up signs of life in the rubble.
Authorities said there were 92 households and 256 people living in the collapsed apartment building, but they did not know how many were actually there when the quake struck.
The fire department said 115 people had been taken to hospital from around Tainan.
SEVERAL BUILDINGS DAMAGED
Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou, speaking to reporters in the capital before leaving for the Tainan, said authorities were not clear on the extent of the disaster.
"The disaster situation is not very clear yet. We will do our utmost to rescue and secure (survivors)," Ma said.
China's Taiwan Affairs Office, which in is charge of Beijing's relations with the self-ruled island, said China was willing to provide help if needed, Chinese state news agency Xinhua said. Beijing regards Taiwan as a wayward province.
The quake initially cut power to 168,000 households in Tainan, many of whose residents lived through a massive 1999 tremor that killed about 2,400 people. Later, utility Taipower said power had been restored to all but about 900 households.
Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co (TSMC), the world's largest contract chipmaker, said some of its wafers made in Tainan had been damaged and some customers might be affected, though first-quarter shipments remained on track.
TSMC will step up production to make up for any delayed shipments, spokeswoman Elizabeth Sun said. It is a big supplier to global smartphone firms, including Apple Inc.
Other major Apple suppliers in Taiwan reported no impact on operations.
Taiwan lies in the seismically active "Pacific Ring of Fire." Television quoted Tainan residents as saying the quake felt worse than the 1999 tremor, centered in central Taiwan.
Taiwan's defense ministry said 810 soldiers had been mobilized for rescue efforts.
Authorities said cracks had been found in a dam but there was no immediate danger. Some bullet train services were suspended to the south as track inspections were carried out, Taiwan High Speed Rail Corp said in a statement.
(Additional reporting by Yimou Lee, J.R. Wu, Faith Hung, Carol Lee, Eric Walsh, Eric Beech, Elizabeth Dilts and Ben Blanchard; Writing by Mark Bendeich; Editing by Tomasz Janowski, Robert Birsel)
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