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Dozens still missing in Taiwan quake

AFTERSHOCKS are hampering rescue efforts as emergency workers comb through collapsed buildings in search of survivors after a powerful earthquake killed at least nine people near Taiwan’s popular tourist city of Hualien.

Nervous residents endured a series of further quakes after the big one on Tuesday, including a 5.7 quake late on Wednesday and smaller tremors earlier today.

The coastal city of Hualien was hit by a magnitude 6.4 quake about 10.30pm local time (1.30am AEDT) on Tuesday that killed nine people and injured 265.

Four buildings collapsed, officials said, and about 62 people are still missing.

It was initially feared as many as 150 people may have been missing in the rubble. The death toll had been put at seven overnight.

Many of the missing were believed to be trapped in a 12-storey residential building that was tilting at a 45-degree angle.

Tenants and their furniture were flung across their apartments in the damaged building.

Hualien is home to about 100,000 people.

Its streets were buckled by the force of the quake, with large cracks along major roads.

It follows almost 100 smaller tremors that have hit the area in the last week and comes exactly two years after a quake of the same magnitude struck the southern Taiwanese city of Tainan, killing more than 100 people.

Most of the death toll from the February 2016 earthquake was from the 16-storey Wei-kuan apartment complex, which toppled on its side with many of its residents buried in the rubble.

It was the only high-rise in Taiwan to crumble completely in the quake, which came two days before Lunar New Year, when many people would have been visiting relatives for the biggest celebration of the Chinese calendar.

The safety of the building was called into question immediately after the disaster, when metal cans and foam were found to have been used as fillers in the concrete and residents said there had been cracks in the structure.

Five people were charged over the disaster, including the developer and two architects, with prosecutors saying they “cut corners” that affected the building’s structural integrity.

Taiwan lies near the junction of two tectonic plates and is regularly hit by earthquakes.

The island’s worst tremor in recent decades was a 7.6 magnitude quake in September 1999 that killed around 2,400 people.

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