News

Published April 3, 2024

Strongest earthquake in Taiwan in nearly 25 years damages buildings, leaves several dead

Strongest earthquake in Taiwan innearly 25 years damages buildings, leaves 7 dead

Christopher Bodeen, The Associated Press

Taiwan’s strongest earthquake in a quarter-century rocked the island during the morning rush hour Wednesday, damaging buildings and highways and leaving nine people dead.

In the capital, Taipei, tiles fell from older buildings as the earthquake shook the city, and schools evacuated their students to sports fields, equipping them with yellow safety helmets. Some children covered themselves with textbooks to guard against falling objects as aftershocks continued. Afterward, a five−story building in Hualien County, near the offshore epicentre, was left leaning at a 45−degree angle, with its first floor collapsed.

Taiwan’s national fire agency said nine people died in the quake, which struck just before 8 a.m. The local United Daily News reported three hikers died in rockslides in Taroko National Park and a van driver died in the same area after boulders hit the vehicle.

The agency said authorities have lost contact with 50 people in minibuses after the quake downed phone networks. More than 70 other people are trapped, but believed to be alive, including some in a coal mine. Another 882 have been injured.

Taiwan’s earthquake monitoring agency said the quake was 7.2 magnitude while the U.S. Geological Survey put it at 7.4. It struck about 18 kilometres (11.1 miles) south−southwest of Hualien and was about 35 kilometres (21 miles) deep. Multiple aftershocks followed, and the USGS said one of the subsequent quakes was 6.5 magnitude and 11.8 kilometres (7 miles) deep. Shallower quakes tend to cause more surface damage. The earthquake triggered a tsunami warning that was later lifted.

Authorities said they had expected a relatively mild quake of magnitude 4 and accordingly did not send out alerts. Still, the earthquake was strong enough to scare people who are used to such shaking.

“Earthquakes are a common occurrence, and I’ve grown accustomed to them. But today was the first time I was scared to tears by an earthquake.I was awakened by the earthquake. I had never felt such intense shaking before.”

Hsien−hsuen Keng, a resident who lives in a fifth−floor apartment in Taipei

Television images showed neighbours and rescue workers lifting residents, including a toddler, through windows and onto the street. All appeared mobile, in shock but without serious injuries. Doors had been fused shut by the pressure of the tilt.

The national legislature, a converted school built before World War II, and sections of the main airport in Taoyuan, just south of Taipei, also saw minor damage.

Traffic along the east coast was at a virtual standstill after the earthquake, with landslides and falling debris hitting tunnels and highways in the mountainous region. Train service was suspended across the island of 23 million people, as was subway service in the capital, Taipei, where a newly constructed above−ground line partially separated.

The Japan Meteorological Agency said a tsunami wave of 30 centimeters (about 1 foot) was detected on the coast of Yonaguni island about 15 minutes after the quake struck. Smaller waves were measured in Ishigaki and Miyako islands.

The earthquake was felt in Shanghai and several provinces along China’s southeastern coast, according to Chinese media. China and Taiwan are about 160 kilometres (100 miles) apart. China issued no tsunami warnings for the Chinese mainland and all such alerts in the region had been lifted by Wednesday afternoon.

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The initial panic after the earthquake quickly faded on the island, which is regularly rocked by temblors and prepares for them with drills at schools and notices issued via public media and mobile phone.

By noon, the metro station in the busy northern Taipei suburb of Beitou was again buzzing with people commuting to jobs and seniors arriving to visit the hot springs or travel the mountain paths at the base of an extinct volcano.

Stephen Gao, a seismologist and professor at Missouri University of Science and Technology, said Taiwan’s earthquake preparedness is among the most advanced in the world, featuring strict building codes, a world−class seismological network, and widespread public education campaigns on earthquake safety.

Hualien was last struck by a deadly quake in 2018 that collapsed a historic hotel and other buildings. Taiwan’s worst quake in recent years struck on Sept. 21, 1999, with a magnitude of 7.7, causing 2,400 deaths, injuring around 100,000 and destroying thousands of buildings.

Taiwan lies along the Pacific “Ring of Fire,” the line of seismic faults encircling the Pacific Ocean where most of the world’s earthquakes occur.

The economic fallout from the quake has yet to be calculated, but Taiwan is the leading manufacturer of the world’s most sophisticated computer chips and other high−technology items that are highly sensitive to seismic events. Parts of the electricity grid were also shut down, possibly leading to disruptions in the supply chain and financial losses.

Taiwanese chipmaker TSMC, which supplies semiconductors to companies such as Apple, said it evacuated employees from some of its factories in Hsinchu, southwest of Taipei. Hsinchu authorities said water and electricity supplies for all the factories in the city’s science park were functioning as normal.

The Taiwan stock exchange opened as usual on Wednesday, with the index wavering between losses and gains.

banner image: The Associated Press

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