Rescuers raced against time Sunday to free more than 100 people still buried beneath the rubble of apartment blocks felled by a powerful earthquake in southern Taiwan that left 18 dead.
The death toll is rising as emergency workers dig to find survivors of the 6.4-magnitude quake that toppled the 16-storey apartment complex containing almost 100 homes in the city of Tainan on Saturday.
"Of the 132 people desperately waiting for rescue, 103 people are buried very deep, there's no way to get to them direct, it's very difficult," said Tainan mayor William Lai early Sunday.
Lai said the rescue operation had started smoothly but ran into difficulties as emergency workers tried to get to residents in two apartment blocks that had been crushed beneath the other two neighbouring towers.
"Because the quake has damaged the structure of the whole complex, for safety considerations we had to do some work to fix them (the crushed towers) before digging," Lai said.
Tainan fire department updated the figures after Lai's briefing, with 127 now estimated as missing.
Census records show around 260 people living in the block but Lai said it was now thought that more than 300 had been inside at the time of the quake.
Officials have said that some students renting rooms would not have been registered as living in the building, and additional family members may also have returned there to celebrate next week's Lunar New Year holidays.
More than 250 have already been rescued with emergency workers using cranes, ladders and sniffer dogs to trace and extract survivors.
Among the 18 people killed by the quake, 16 died in the apartment complex collapse, including a 10-day-old baby girl and two other children.
Tearful relatives huddled by the ruins, hoping for news Sunday morning.
Meanwhile, survivors spoke of their terror and relief.
One man told AFP how he was rescued after tapping on a wardrobe that was trapping him.
"I knocked on the closet to get the attention of rescuers who broke the window to get me," said resident Su Yi-ming, 48, who lived with his family on the sixth floor of the Wei-kuan complex.
"My mind went blank when the quake struck, it shook violently and the house just came down. I couldn't react."
Su escaped uninjured, with his wife and their two children sustaining minor injuries.
The quake struck at a shallow depth of 10 kilometers (six miles) at around 4:00 am Saturday morning (2000 GMT Friday), 39 kilometers northeast of Kaohsiung, Taiwan's second-largest city.
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.