taiwan earthquake.jpg
Photograph: EPA/RITCHIE B. TONGO

More than 100 people were missing a day after a 6.4-magnitude earthquake killed at least 34 in southern Taiwan, authorities said Sunday.

Interior Minister Chen Wei-zen, who heads the Central Emergency Operation Centre, said all emergency crews would continue to search for survivors, state-run Central News Agency reported.

The death toll in the southern city of Tainan climbed to 34 and an estimated 500 people were injured, according to the emergency centre.

Ninety-two victims were still being treated in hospitals and 119 people remained missing, it reported.

President Ma Ying-jeou said at the emergency centre that the government will continue rescue operations and also focus on long-term reconstruction work.

"In the wake of the deadly earthquake, we clearly know that we still have a lot to improve the public safety," Ma said.

Most of the missing people were in the 17-storey apartment building that collapsed in the city's Yungkang district.

Authorities suspect shoddy construction could be the reason the building did not hold up in the quake that struck at 3:57 am Saturday (1957 GMT Friday).

The search for survivors lasted through the night. A 14-year-old girl was rescued after being trapped under debris for 27 hours, the Apple Daily reported.

"It hurts incredibly. Come help me quickly. I'm dying," the girl, who was stuck in debris, said to rescuers in video footage shown on SET TV.

Emergency crews found signs of life in the rubble in the morning and successfully rescued six people from the collapsed building, CNA reported. A 32-year-old man was able to crawl out, and asked the rescuers to reach his girlfriend and family trapped inside.

Tainan Mayor Lai Ching-te said search efforts had slowed because emergency crews had to carefully remove the rubble by hand, in order not to hurt possible survivors, Apple Daily reported.

Lai arrived at the site with a Japanese team of volunteers, local media reported.

Lai said that it was not easy to confirm the number of the missing and maybe more than 100 people were at the very bottom of the large collapsed residential complex.

"However, based on reports filed by residents, we now target 18 places for 63 residents trapped under rubble," Lai was quoted as saying by Apple Daily.

Prime Minister Chang San-cheng also visited injured people in hospitals.

Sunday is the eve of the Lunar New Year, and Chang expressed his condolences to the families of victims. In Taiwan, the biggest event of the day is the reunion dinner with relatives.

The collapsed apartment building was home to about 250 people in 96 households, according to the emergency Centre. But headcounts of survivors showed that more than 300 people were inside at the time of the quake.

The number of people in the building may have swelled ahead of the holiday, when families typically host guests or relatives from other parts of Taiwan.

High-speed rail services that had been suspended in the southern region since the earthquake were scheduled to return to normal.

Chinese President Xi Jinping expressed his deepest sympathies for the families of the victims, CCTV reported.

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