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Tuesday, September 21, 1999 Published at 16:58 GMT 17:58 UK

World: Asia-Pacific

Rescuers hunt quake survivors

Rescue workers clear debris in Taipei

A huge rescue operation is under way in Taiwan following a powerful earthquake that struck the island in the early hours of Tuesday morning.

Quake in Taiwan
The death toll has been rising rapidly hour by hour. Latest official figures say that at least 1,700 people have been killed.

Central Nantou and Taichung counties were worst affected, and a hotel collapsed in the capital Taipei.

The BBC's Rachel Ellison: "Taiwan was rocked by one of the strongest tremors since 1935"
Bodies stacked up at hospitals in Taichung as rescue workers dug frantically through twisted debris and rubble in search of survivors.

Local television showed traumatic scenes of grief as survivors found the bodies of dead relatives.

Click here to see a map of the affected area

Some survivors gathered half naked in the streets, bewildered and confused. Others clung to the balconies of what had been their homes.

Rescue efforts

By late Tuesday evening, the Interior Ministry's disaster management centre reported that more than 3,800 were injured. Some 2,300 people were believed trapped, while 225 were reported missing, the centre said.

Many people were preparing to sleep out in the open on Tuesday night, because their houses are destroyed or unsafe.

Several thousand troops are being deployed to join rescue workers battling to reach those buried under flattened buildings.

The damage caused by the quake could come to 100bn Taiwan dollars ($3.2bn), according to a Taipei newspaper, the United Evening News, citing unidentified government officials.

The quake, estimated at 7.6 on the Richter Scale, is believed to be the strongest to have hit the island this century.

Click here to send us your accounts of the earthquake.

Read your experiences of the earthquake here

The tremor is thought to have been even more powerful than last month's devastating quake in Turkey, which killed 15,000 and measured 7.4 on the Richter Scale.

President Lee Teng-hui and other officials flew by helicopter to Nantou in a show of support for the victims, after an emergency government meeting.

Message from Beijing

The BBC's Duncan Hewitt: Beijing makes a conciliatory gesture
Chinese President Jiang Zemin set aside a continuing war of words between the two countries and extended condolences and offered aid to victims

"We are willing to offer any possible assistance to alleviate the losses," President Jiang said.

[ image:  ]
China's Red Cross has announced it will provide $100,000 in disaster aid and 500,000 yuan ($60,000) worth of relief supplies to earthquake victims.

Fifteen experts from the Turkish AKUT search team are en route to Taipei equipped with sensitive listening devices and heat-seeking cameras used in locating people trapped under rubble.

Japan said it was planning to send 100 rescue workers to Taiwan on Tuesday.

Russia's emergency ministry said it was preparing to send a 17-member rescue team to Taiwan, and the Hong Kong Government said it was also considering sending aid. US President Bill Clinton has also pledged help.


[ image: Toys scattered outside a destroyed building in Taipei]
Toys scattered outside a destroyed building in Taipei
More than 1,000 aftershocks were recorded in the nine hours after the quake, including one at 6.8 and 21 at five or higher on the Richter Scale, local officials said.

The authorities have warned that there could be aftershocks for two weeks.

State radio said more than six million households across the island were hit by power cuts triggered by the collapse of a pylon in central Taiwan.

But the full extent of the damage, especially in remote and mountainous areas, is not yet known.

The BBC's Peter Biles: "It is pictures, not words, that best describe what happened here"
President Lee Teng-hui urged people to stay calm and promised swift help for those affected by the devastation.

"I ask the public to stay calm and the government will do its best to help the people recover from the trauma and the damage," Mr Lee said.

Taiwan's stock and currency markets remained closed on Tuesday.

Tuesday's quake was Taiwan's deadliest since a 7.4 magnitude tremor hit the island in 1935, killing 3,276 people.

Taiwan is hit by dozens of earthquakes each year, but most strike in the Pacific Ocean east of the island and rarely cause damage.

[ image:  ]

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