Photos show rescue crews using ladders, ropes and cranes in an attempt to free people trapped in buildings leaning at precarious angles after a strong earthquake struck near the east coast of Taiwan.

At least six people were killed and 254 injured in the quake, while 88 were still unaccounted for at time of writing. China Central Television reported that more than 40 of the missing people were trapped in the Yunmen Cuiti building, a 12-storey apartment block. Rescue efforts at the building had to be suspended because the structure was sliding, according to Taiwan's Central Emergency Operation Centre.

Rescue workers saved an employee, surnamed Leung, from the Marshal Hotel in Hualien, whose ground floor caved in as a result of the shallow, magnitude 6.4 quake. Taiwan's National Fire Agency said another hotel worker, surnamed Zhou, was also freed from the rubble, but did not show any vital signs.

Taiwan earthquake
The body of an employee of the Marshal Hotel in Hualien is carried out of the damaged building by a rescue personnel Tyrone Siu/Reuters

A maintenance worker who was rescued after being trapped in the hotel's basement said the force of the earthquake was unusual. "At first it wasn't that big ... we get this sort of thing all the time and it's really nothing. But then it got really terrifying," Chen Ming-hui told CNA after he was reunited with his son and grandson. "It was really scary."

Video footage and photos showed several mid-sized buildings in Hualien leaning at sharp angles, their lowest floors crushed into mangled heaps of concrete, shattered glass, bent iron beams and other debris. Firefighters could be seen climbing ladders hoisted against windows as they sought to reach residents inside apartments.

The force of the tremor buckled roads and disrupted electricity and water supplies to thousands of households, the National Fire Agency said.

China's official Xinhua News Agency reported that the director of China's Taiwan Affairs office, Zhang Zhijun, said China was "willing to send a rescue team to Taiwan" to help with relief efforts, adding that he was aware of a shortage of rescue workers in the disaster area.

Japan's Foreign Ministry said nine Japanese were among the injured. CNA reported that 16 foreigners were injured overall. Three British tourists were photographed smiling, wrapped in duvets, outside a damaged building in Hualien.

Taiwan earthquake
Three British tourists sit outside a collapsed building in Hualien Paul Yang/AFP

Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen moved to reassure the Taiwanese public that every effort would be made to look for survivors. In a post on her official Facebook page, Tsai said she arrived in Hualien on Wednesday (7 February) to review rescue efforts. Tsai said she "ordered search and rescue workers not to give up on any opportunity to save people, while keeping their own safety in mind."

"This is when the Taiwanese people show their calm, resilience and love," she wrote. "The government will work with everyone to guard their homeland."