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Taiwan quake toll rises to 15 as bodies pulled from rubble

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The toll from a deadly 6.4-magnitude quake in Taiwan rose to 15 Saturday as rescuers searching for a missing family of Chinese tourists discovered three more bodies in a partially toppled building.

Scores of emergency workers combed the rubble at the foot of the 12-storey Yun Tsui apartment block that was left leaning at around a 50-degree angle by the quake, complicating rescue efforts due to fears of an imminent collapse.

The three bodies and the last missing pair are believed to be members of a family from Beijing who arrived in Taiwan on Monday, authorities said.

They were staying in a second-floor room at a hotel in the building in the eastern city of Hualien when the quake hit the following night.

“(We) are digging from the fourth floor down and even though the site is leaning at 45 degrees we are making an all-out effort for the rescue,” the Hualien fire department said in a statement.

The bodies pulled from the site were of a 12-year-old boy, an adult man and an adult woman, rescuers said, meaning 12 of the 15 people killed in the quake perished in the Yun Tsui building.

Three partially collapsed buildings in Hualien are being demolished for public safety, including the local landmark Marshal Hotel where one employee was killed.

Hualien, on Taiwan’s picturesque east coast, is one of the country’s most popular tourist destinations, but the mountains that rise up behind the city are testament to the deadly tectonic fault lines that run through the island.

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

That quake ushered in stricter building codes but many of Taiwan’s older buildings remain perilously vulnerable to even moderate quakes.