Hundreds are believed to be trapped after a magnitude-6.4 quake toppled buildings and shook eastern Taiwan just before midnight Tuesday.
At least two people were reported dead and more than 200 injured as rescuers struggled to pluck people from pancaked high-rises and piles of rubble. A 60-year-old woman and a 66-year-old man were killed, according to the Interior Ministry.
Hotels collapsed, trapping guests and workers. Chen Minghui, a maintenance worker at the Marshal Hotel in Hualien county was stuck in the basement. "At first it wasn't that bad," he told The Associated Press. "We get this sort of thing all the time and it's really nothing. But then it got really terrifying," Chen said after meeting up with his son and grandson. "It was really very scary."
Rescuers used cranes, ladders and resorted to ropes to free those stranded in buildings where floors collapsed on top of each other. Some were pulled from windows.
Buildings pitched at strange and dangerous angles and a hospital was damaged, but no one was trapped inside the medical center, according to officials.
Tuesday's temblor was preceded by magnitudes 5.3 and 6.1 quakes on Sunday, but there were no deaths in those earthquakes.
Rescue efforts were hampered by roads and bridges that buckled and cracked, preventing their use.
"We know there are people who are are trapped inside, we can see lights inside the hotel," Zeena Starbuck said, according the BBC. "People are shining their lights to let people know they're there."
Tuesday's earthquake came exactly two years after a 6.4-magnitude quake killed 115 in southern Taiwan. In 1999, a magnitude-7.6 quake killed more than 2,300 people.