Taiwan’s strongest earthquake in 25 years kills at least nine

Taiwan’s strongest earthquake in a quarter of a century has rocked the island during the morning rush hour, damaging buildings and major roads and leaving nine people dead.

The quake, which also injured hundreds, was centred off the coast of the rural, mountainous Hualien County, where some buildings leaned at severe angles, their ground floors crushed.

Just over 93 miles away in the capital of Taipei, tiles fell from older buildings, 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.

Taiwan’s national fire agency said nine people died in the quake, which struck just before 8am. 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.

Another 934 people were injured. Meanwhile, authorities said they had lost contact with 50 people in minibuses in the national park after the quake downed phone networks. Another six people were trapped in a coal mine, where a rescue was under way.

The quake and aftershocks also caused 24 landslides and damage to 35 roads, bridges and tunnels.

Taiwan’s earthquake monitoring agency said the quake was a magnitude of 7.2, while the US Geological Survey (USGS) put it at 7.4.

It struck about 11 miles south-southwest of Hualien and was about 21 miles deep.

Multiple aftershocks followed, and the USGS said one of the subsequent quakes was a magnitude of 6.5 and seven 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 of four 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,” said Taipei resident Hsien-hsuen Keng. “I was awakened by the earthquake. I had never felt such intense shaking before.”

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.

The national legislature, a converted school built before the Second World War, 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 roads in the mountainous region.

Train services were 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 30cm was detected on the coast of Yonaguni island about 15 minutes after the quake struck. Smaller waves were measured on the islands of Ishigaki and Miyako.

The earthquake was felt in Shanghai and several provinces along China’s south-eastern coast, according to Chinese media. China and Taiwan are about 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.

The initial panic after the earthquake quickly faded on the island, which is regularly rocked by tremors 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 others 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, which saw the collapse of a historic hotel and other buildings. Taiwan’s worst quake in recent years struck on September 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 disruption 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.

Published: by Radio NewsHub