TaiwanA powerful earthquake measuring 6.4 magnitudes on the Richter scale struck southern parts of Taiwan before dawn on Saturday leaving seven people killed and at least 422 others wounded.

Hundreds of firefighters and military personnel are engaged in rescue operation trying to save scores of people under the debris of the collapsed buildings.

The hard hit area is Tainan city where a 17-floor residential building collapsed when the quake occurred at about 4am on Saturday (20:00 GMT Friday).

More than 1,200 firefighters raced to the site with ladders, cranes and other equipment in order to rescue those trapped in the ruined building.

Local TV channels showed firefighters using ladders to scramble over the concrete rubble of several apartment buildings, looking for victims.

The powerful quake ripped a 10-foot chasm in a golf course, cut off water supplies to 400,000 people and halted high-speed rail service to the southern half of the island.

The quake cast a pall over the island amid the approach of Lunar New Year, a peak travel period when many people return their hometowns.

Outgoing President Ma Ying-jeou flew to Tainan, pledging “all-out efforts” to rescue those who remained trapped and assist others affected by the disaster.

Ma said the military had prepared 1,200 beds in four shelters in the area to accommodate the displaced.

The epicenter of the earthquake was underneath the central mountain range of Taiwan — about 27 miles southeast of Tainan and 24 miles northeast of Kaohsiung, the island’s main port city.

Taiwan sits in a collision zone between the Philippine Sea and Eurasian plates, and is seismically active.