The Latest: Pope sends prayers to Taiwan quake victims

HUALIEN, Taiwan — The Latest on a strong earthquake that struck Taiwan (all times local):

8:30 p.m.

Pope Francis is sending his prayers to the victims of Taiwan's earthquake and encouragement to rescue crews.

In a message of condolence Wednesday, Francis expressed his solidarity with the victims and offered "the assurance of his prayers for those who have lost their lives and for those who have been injured."

At least six people were killed, 256 were injured and 76 could not be contacted after the shallow, magnitude 6.4 quake late Tuesday night.

The pope's note carried political weight, given indications that China and the Holy See are near a breakthrough in a decades-long dispute over the nomination of bishops. China's state-run Global Times newspaper said this week Beijing and the Vatican would establish diplomatic relations "sooner or later."

The Holy See is the only European state that still has diplomatic relations with Taiwan. It has promised to remain a "committed partner" of Taiwan, but just exactly what that would entail if it establishes diplomatic relations with Beijing is unclear.

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5:30 p.m.

The confirmed death toll has climbed to six in a strong earthquake that hit near Taiwan's east coast.

Taiwan's National Fire Agency said Wednesday that in addition to the six deaths, 256 people were injured in the quake and 88 were unaccounted for.

Taiwan's official Central News Agency reported that seven people had been killed.

The shallow, magnitude 6.4 quake that hit late Tuesday night caused at least four buildings in worst-hit Hualien county to cave in and tilt dangerously.

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5:15 p.m.

A fifth person has died in a strong earthquake that hit near Taiwan's east coast.

Taiwan's National Fire Agency said Wednesday that in addition to the five people who were killed, 254 others were injured and 88 are unaccounted for.

The shallow, magnitude 6.4 quake that hit late Tuesday night caused at least four buildings in worst-hit Hualien county to cave in and tilt dangerously.

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4:15 p.m.

Rescue workers have saved one person from a hotel that was severely damaged after a strong earthquake hit near Taiwan's east coast.

The man, surnamed Leung, was an employee of the Marshal Hotel, whose ground floor caved in as a result of the shallow, magnitude 6.4 quake that struck late Tuesday night.

Taiwan's National Fire Agency says another hotel worker, surnamed Zhou, was also freed from the rubble Wednesday but did not show any vital signs.

At least four people were killed and 247 injured in the quake, while 82 were unaccounted for.

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3:15 p.m.

China says it is prepared to send a rescue team to Taiwan after a strong earthquake struck near the island's east coast.

China's official Xinhua News Agency reported Wednesday that the director of China's Taiwan Affairs office, Zhang Zhijun, said in a statement, "The compatriots across the straits are a family." He said China "is willing to send a rescue team to Taiwan" to help with relief efforts, adding that he is aware of a shortage of rescue workers in the disaster area.

The shallow, magnitude 6.4 quake that hit late Tuesday night caused at least four buildings in worst-hit Hualien county to cave in and tilt dangerously. Taiwan's National Fire Agency said four people were killed and 243 injured, while 85 were unaccounted for.

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2:40 p.m.

Japan's Foreign Ministry says nine Japanese are among the more than 200 people who were injured in a strong earthquake that struck near Taiwan's east coast and killed four people.

The ministry also issued a safety advisory to Japanese traveling to Taiwan to use caution and postpone visits if possible. The ministry cautioned of risks of landslides and buildings collapsing as aftershocks continued Wednesday.

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 National Fire Agency said Wednesday that four people were killed in the quake, while 243 others were injured and 85 unaccounted for.

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1:25 p.m.

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.

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9:30 a.m.

Rescuers are working to free at least five people trapped in damaged buildings and to reach another 170 unaccounted for after an earthquake near Taiwan's eastern coast.

The National Fire Agency says five people are confirmed trapped as of Wednesday morning. While most of the unaccounted for were likely to be in one residential building, the agency did not have an estimate of how many were in the building at the time.

The quake late Tuesday caused buildings to cave in and tilt dangerously and killed at least two people.

The agency says 219 people were injured, two dozen of them critically, in Hualien county. The force of the tremor late Tuesday buckled roads and disrupted electricity and water supplies to thousands of households.

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5:30 a.m.

Authorities have closed bridges and some highways pending inspections after a deadly, magnitude 6.4 earthquake struck off the coast of Taiwan.

With aftershocks continuing, shell-shocked residents were being directed Tuesday to shelters, including a newly built baseball stadium where beds and hot food were being 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.

He said the priority was to let people return home to check on loved ones.

Taiwan's fire and rescue service said one employee died after parts of the Marshal Hotel collapsed in Hualien county and another perished in a nearby residence.

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4 a.m.

Officials say a magnitude 6.4 earthquake that struck near the coast of Taiwan has killed two hotel employees and injured more than 200 other people.

The Central News Agency reported that the ground floor of the Marshal Hotel, a building in Hualien district, had caved in and people were believed to be trapped inside.

The agency also posted photos showing a road fractured in several parts.

The U.S. Geological Survey said the quake struck late Tuesday about 21 kilometers (13 miles) northeast of Hualien, on the island's east coast. It occurred at a depth of about 9.5 kilometers (6 miles).

Taiwanese media reported that a separate hotel known as the Beautiful Life Hotel is tilting.

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.

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