TAIPEI, Taiwan -- A rescue worker says a crew is trying to free two people from a hotel whose ground floor caved after a strong earthquake hit near Taiwan's eastern coast.
The shallow magnitude 6.4 quake that struck late Tuesday night caused at least four buildings in worst-hit Hualien county to cave in and tilt dangerously. Taiwan's Central News Agency says four people have been killed and 225 others injured, while more than 140 remain unaccounted for.
Taiwanese broadcaster TVBS said Wednesday that a rescue operation was underway at the Marshal Hotel.
One hotel employee was killed after the ground floor caved in. A rescue worker told TVBS that rescuers were working to save two other employees as family members waited nearby.
Chen Minghui, a maintenance worker who was rescued after being trapped in the hotel's basement, told the Associated Press the force of the earthquake was unusual.
"At first it wasn't that big. We get this sort of thing all the time and its really nothing. But then it got really terrifying," Chen said after he was reunited with his son and grandson. "It was really scary."
Other buildings shifted on their foundations and rescuers used ladders, ropes and cranes to get residents to safety.
Taiwanese media reported that the Beautiful Life Hotel was tilting. The agency also posted photos showing a road fractured in several parts.
"We know there are people who are trapped inside -- we can see lights inside the hotel," witness Zeena Starbuck told BBC News. "People with phones are shining their lights to let people know they're there."
Bridges and some highways were closed pending inspections after buckling due to the force of the quake.
With aftershocks continuing, shell-shocked residents were being directed to shelters, including a newly built baseball stadium, where beds and hot food were provided.
Speaking from a crisis center in Taipei, Cabinet spokesman Hsu Kuo-yung said rail links appeared to be unaffected and the runway of Hualien airport was intact.
"We're putting a priority on Hualien people being able to return home to check on their loved ones," Hsu said.
The earthquake followed one over the weekend off the coast of Hualien, which lies along the famed "Pacific Rim of Fire" known for seismic activity from Alaska to Southeast Asia.
The quake came exactly two years after a magnitude-6.4 quake struck southern Taiwan, causing the collapse of an apartment complex and the deaths of 115 people.
Five people involved in the construction of the complex were later found guilty of negligence and given prison sentences.
A magnitude-7.6 quake in central Taiwan killed more than 2,300 people in 1999.
Earthquakes rattle Taiwan frequently. Most are minor and cause little or no damage,