Taiwan's strongest earthquake in 25 years leaves nine dead, 1,000 injured

Date: unknown

Location: www.channelnewsasia.com

03 Apr 2024 08:30AM (Updated: 04 Apr 2024 09:14AM)

TAIPEI: At least nine people were killed and more than 1,000 injured on Wednesday (Apr 3) by a powerful earthquake in Taiwan that damaged dozens of buildings and prompted tsunami warnings that extended to Japan and the Philippines before being lifted.

The magnitude-7.4 quake struck offshore just before 8am local time, with the United States Geological Survey (USGS) putting the epicentre 18km south of Taiwan's Hualien City, at a depth of 34.8km.

It was the strongest to shake the island in at least 25 years, officials said, as they warned of more tremors in the days ahead.

"The earthquake is close to land and it's shallow. It's felt all over Taiwan and offshore islands," said Wu Chien-fu, director of Taipei's Central Weather Administration's Seismology Center.

Local television broadcast images of buildings tilted at precarious angles, while rescuers were seen using ladders to help trapped people out of windows. 

Elsewhere there were massive landslides. Strong tremors in Taipei forced the subway system to close briefly, although most lines resumed service.

"It was very strong. It felt as if the house was going to topple," said Chang Yu-lin, 60, a worker in a hospital in Taipei, the capital.

A woman who runs a bed-and-breakfast accommodation in Hualien city said she scrambled to calm her guests who were frightened by the quake.

"This is the biggest earthquake I have ever experienced," said the woman who asked to be identified by her family name, Chan.

PEOPLE TRAPPED

Fire authorities said they were slowly evacuating some of those trapped in tunnels near Hualien city, including two Germans.

They said earlier that 77 people were trapped in tunnels and collapsed buildings.

Authorities also said they had also lost contact with 50 travellers aboard four minibuses heading to a hotel in a national park, Taroko Gorge, without giving details.

The government put the number of injured at 821.

"At present the most important thing, the top priority, is to rescue people," said President-elect Lai Ching-te, speaking outside one of the collapsed buildings in Hualien.

The rail link to the area was expected to reopen on Thursday, Lai, who is set to take office next month, told reporters.

Taiwan's air force said six F-16 fighter jets had been slightly damaged at a major base in the city from which jets are often scrambled to see off incursions by China's air force, but it expected the aircraft to return to service very soon.

In Japan, the weather agency put the quake's magnitude at 7.7, saying several small tsunami waves reached parts of the southern prefecture of Okinawa, while downgrading its tsunami warning to an advisory.

In the Philippines, seismology officials warned coastal residents in several provinces telling them to move to higher ground.

Chinese state media said the quake was felt in the southeasterrn province of Fujian, while a Reuters witness said it was also felt in the commercial hub of Shanghai.

Aftershocks could still be felt in Taipei, with more than 50 recorded, weather officials said.

Most power has been restored after the quake, electricity utility Taipower said, with the island's two nuclear power stations unaffected.

Taiwan's high-speed rail operator said no damage or injuries were reported on its trains, although services would be delayed as it made inspections.

Fabrication at Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company - the world's biggest chip maker and supplier to Apple and Nvidia - was briefly interrupted, according to a company official.

The company later said in a statement that a "small number of tools were damaged at certain facilities, partially impacting their operations" but that no "critical tools" had been damaged.

It said it was deploying "all available resources for full recovery, and impacted facilities are expected to resume production throughout the night".

The official central news agency said the quake was the biggest since one of magnitude 7.6 in 1999 that killed about 2,400 people and damaged or destroyed 50,000 buildings.

Taiwan weather officials said the intensity of Wednesday's earthquake in Hualien stood at the second-highest level of "Upper 6" on a scale ranging from 1 to 7.

Such quakes collapse walls unless they are made of reinforced concrete blocks, while people cannot stand upright and must crawl to move, Japan's weather agency has said.

Source: Agencies/at/rc/rj/fs