An explosion caused by a gas leak killed 24 people and injured 271 in Taiwan's second city on Friday, sending flames shooting 15 stories into the air, setting entire blocks ablaze and reducing small shops to rubble.
The Central Disaster Emergency Operation Center said police and soldiers had been drafted in to help firefighters after the midnight explosion and blaze gutted a district in the port city of Kaohsiung packed with shops and apartment buildings.
Four firefighters were among the dead. Media reports suggested the death toll was likely to rise sharply.
President Ma Ying-jeou pledged tough measures to prevent any recurrence of the incident.
"We will make further arrangements and inspections to avoid this kind of disaster from occurring again," Ma said in comments shown on television after speaking via a video link with Kaohsiung's mayor.
The blast sent flames racing through the district and smoke billowing high into the air. Flames shot up from sewers and gutters and water from burst mains gushed through the streets.
Residents said the blast shook buildings like there was an earthquake, toppling small shops and overturning cars.
Rescuers formed a chain to pull dozens of injured from a vast crater in the street and picked their way through piles of rubble as they ferried the injured away on stretchers.