RESCUERS are working to free people trapped after a strong earthquake struck Taiwan’s east coast, killing at least six people and leaving another 76 missing.

Several buildings have caved in and others are tilting dangerously after the 6.4-magnitude tremor.

Videos and photos show several buildings in the worst-hit Hualien county leaning at sharp angles, their lowest floors crushed into mangled heaps of debris. Firefighters climbed ladders hoisted against windows to reach residents inside apartments.

The shallow quake caused at least four buildings to cave in and shift on their foundations. This was likely caused by soil liquefaction, when the ground beneath a building loses its solidity under stress such as that caused by an earthquake.

A maintenance worker who was rescued after being trapped in the basement of the Marshal Hotel said the force of the earthquake was unusual, even for a region used to such seismic events.

“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,” said Chen Ming-hui. “It was really scary.”

Other buildings are slanted at alarming degrees and rescuers have used ladders, ropes and cranes to move residents to safety.

Six people were killed in the quake, while 256 others were injured and 76 unaccounted for, according to the fire service.