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Taiwan earthquake: A fast enough rescue response? (+video)

A magnitude 6.4 earthquake hit Taiwan Saturday morning. Are government and aid organizations in Taiwan responding with rescue and relief efforts quickly enough?

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    A canine rescue team searches for the missing in a collapsed building, after an early morning earthquake in Tainan, Taiwan, where a powerful, shallow earthquake struck southern Taiwan before dawn Saturday.
    Wally Santana/AP
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The rescue effort in Tainan, Taiwan, is well underway following a 6.4-magnitude, pre-dawn earthquake Saturday morning local time.

Nearly 340 people have already been rescued, as Taiwanese search and rescue teams including 800 soldiers and 23 dogs continue to search for the estimated 172 still missing, the BBC reported. One woman described how rescuers dug through a particularly hard-hit, 16-story apartment building to rescue her and her children.

"They asked us to climb out, but I said my children are too small to climb," she told the BBC. "So they dug a bigger hole. Then one rescue worker tried his best to climb in and take the children out. Then I slowly climbed out myself."

On ladders and cranes, some 8,000 firefighters search among the rubble of collapsed buildings, Gladys Tsai reported for the Associated Press. The latest reports are that 14 residents, including one baby in an apartment building which had a care center for newborns and mothers, have died.

Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou had toured the city of 2 million and said shelters were being set up for those who lost homes in the earthquake, the BBC reported. By Saturday evening, running water was on for almost half the affected homes, and electricity had been restored to most of the homes that had lost power, reported Frances Huang, Yuling Kao and Flor Wang for Focus Taiwan News Channel.

Taiwan is situated near the meeting-point of two tectonic plates and, like its neighbors, often experiences earthquakes. Perhaps remembering the extensive aid sent by Taiwan during Japan's earthquake recovery, when Taiwan was the second-largest outside contributor to relief after the United States, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has offered help with both rescue and relief, Deutsche Welle reported.  

The local forces seem prepared to deal with the earthquake and seem unlikely to call for further international help, the BBC's John Sudworth reported from China's capitol.

Local aid organizations have mobilized quickly, even though the earthquake came during the country's biggest holiday, when many Taiwanese travel to see family members. About 1,000 volunteers from the Buddhist Compassion Relief Tzu Chi Foundation, one of Taiwan's leading charities, were on the ground Saturday providing hot meals and warm clothes in Tainan, Focus Taiwan reported. Local businesses are also donating, with several hotels offering free rooms to earthquake survivors.  

The Taiwan Red Cross deployed a team of 50 volunteers to the disaster area with hammers, electric drills, and other rescue equipment, and more teams were deployed throughout the day Saturday to provide hot meals and blankets to shelters, wrote Hlur Gudjonsson for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. The Chinese Red Cross also pledged 2 million Yuan to help with Taiwanese relief efforts.

The government of mainland China has also offered its help with the earthquake recovery process, although such offers have not always gone well in the past because of the testy relationship between the two governments, the BBC reported. The earthquake relief is unlikely to significantly impact Taiwan's internal politics, however, as Taiwan has already elected a president from the opposing party, Tsai Ing-wen, who is set for inauguration on May 20, Stuart Leavenworth reported for The Christian Science Monitor.

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