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Taiwan's largest earthquake in 25 years leaves 9 dead, dozens injured

Nine individuals perished following the seismic jolt of a 7.4 magnitude earthquake that hit off the eastern shore of Taiwan in the early hours of Wednesday.

Agencies and A News ASIA
Published April 03,2024

At least nine people have been killed and more than 820 injured as a result of a severe earthquake that struck off the east coast of Taiwan, the national fire brigade authority said on Wednesday.

A total of 127 were trapped in tunnels or buildings, the authority said on Wednesday afternoon. The trapped people were all in the area around the city of Hualien on the mountainous east coast of the island, where the earthquake caused severe damage.

Two Germans who had been trapped in a tunnel have been rescued, the fire brigade authorities announced on Wednesday evening.

More than 100 aftershocks were recorded there within eight hours of the quake.

The 7.2-magnitude earthquake struck at 7:58 am on Wednesday (2358 GMT Tuesday) at a depth of 15.5 kilometres, according to the Central Weather Administration (CWA), triggering a small tsunami which reached some islands in south-western Japan.

The epicentre was about 25 kilometres south-east of Hualien, the CWA said. It was followed by several strong aftershocks including one of 6.5 magnitude.

The US Geological Survey (USGS) put the earthquake's magnitude at 7.4.

Some buildings in Hualien were severely damaged by the violent tremors, local media reported. Photos showed a collapsed multistorey building.

A 54-year-old man surnamed Chen living in Hualien City told dpa during a telephone interview that he was in his office when the earthquake hit.

"Never have I felt such a big earthquake since I moved from the capital Taipei ... three years ago," Chen said.

"At that moment, I felt I could do nothing but sit down to wait for my future. I did think of the terrible experience in the big one in 1999, when I was still working in Taipei."

In September 1999, Taiwan, which sits on the boundary between the Eurasian plate and the Philippine Sea plate on the so-called seismically active Ring of Fire, was hit by a 7.3 magnitude earthquake that left more than 2,400 people dead.

Chen said a number of tiles fell off the outside of his office building to the ground. "We've never seen such a terrible scene before," he said.

Chen's office is some 3 to 4 kilometres from a tilted building from which trapped people were rescued earlier in the day.

In New Taipei City, which surrounds the capital in the island's north, a warehouse collapsed injuring three people, several media outlets reported. Damage was also reported in other parts of the island. According to eyewitnesses, the quake was also clearly felt in Taipei.

Public rail transport was cancelled in several major cities on the island with a population of more than 23 million. Express train services were also interrupted.

Taiwan's major semiconductor manufacturer TSMC halted production, according to the Hsinchu Science Park Administration, as did Powerchip.

According to reports, TSMC was checking the condition of its production line after evacuating workers during the earthquake.

The official Nuclear Safety Commission (NUSC) issued a notice at 8:22 am stating that the Maanshan nuclear power plant in southern Pingtung County continued to operate normally after the shock.

A small tsunami reached the nearby Japanese islands of Yonaguni, Ishigaki and Miyako in Okinawa Prefecture, the Japan Meteorological agency said. It had initially warned of a possible tsunami of up to 3 metres, but later withdrew this warning.

The Philippines also cancelled a tsunami warning for several provinces several hours after the initial quake. The National Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) had previously warned of potentially high tsunami waves.

Coastal residents there and in Japan were urged to seek safety.

Following the tsunami warning, air traffic at Naha Airport on Okinawa was temporarily suspended. Passengers were asked to move to higher floors of the terminal building, according to the airport operator.

The airport is located on the coast of the main island of the chain. Residents were repeatedly told over loudspeakers to move to higher ground. On the island of Yonaguni, residents were taken to a school.

After the devastating earthquake in 1999, the Taiwan government started revising building codes for the sake of earthquake resistance.

To promote awareness, the Taiwan government also applied new technologies into disaster prevention education programmes and learned some disaster prevention experience and mechanisms from Japan.

In addition to earthquake prevention, the government also allocated more money into the improvement of active earthquake observation by strengthening the capability of real-time seismic measuring stations across the country.