Taiwan earthquake

In this photo released by the National Fire Agency, members of a search and rescue team prepare to enter a leaning building in the aftermath of an earthquake in Hualien, eastern Taiwan on Wednesday. (National Fire Agency via AP/PTI)

Taiwan earthquake: 9 dead, 821 injured in strongest quake in 25 years

Taiwan’s earthquake monitoring agency gave the magnitude as 7.2 while the US Geological Survey put it at 7.4; quake struck 18 km south-southwest of Hualien

Taiwan's strongest earthquake in 25 years rocked the island during the morning rush hour on Wednesday (April 3), damaging buildings and highways and causing the deaths of nine people.

An earthquake of at least 7.2 magnitude rocked the entire island of Taiwan, collapsing buildings in a southern city and sparking a small tsunami that washed ashore on southern Japanese islands.

Taiwan's national fire agency said seven people died in Hualien County and at least 736 were injured in the quake that struck just before 8 am. The local United Daily News reported three hikers died in rockslides in Taroko National Park near the offshore epicentre.

Later, the Taiwanese government put the death toll at nine while 821 persons have been injured.

One person is suspected to have been crushed to death by falling rocks in the mountainous Hualien region, the epicentre of the quake, Reuters quoted Taiwan’s fire department.

Traffic along the east coast was at a virtual standstill, with landslides and falling debris hitting tunnels and highways in the mountainous region. Those caused damage to vehicles, though it wasn't clear if anyone was hurt.

Tsunami threat has largely passed

More than two hours after the 7.4 magnitude quake struck Taiwan, the Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre said the threat of a tsunami has largely passed.

There does not seem to have been any damage caused by the tsunami, and the Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre in Hawaii said the risk of tsunami waves that could cause damage had largely passed.

Hualien worst-hit city

The worst-hit city was Hualien, on Taiwan’s eastern coast. There were reports of continuing aftershocks after the quake. Residents of Hualien described the harrowing experience of driving while rocks fell from the nearby mountains around them.

Agencies were working to rescue about 127 people who have been trapped in about 26 buildings that had collapsed due to the earthquake.

A five-storey building in the lightly-populated Hualien appeared heavily damaged, with its first floor collapsing and the rest leaning at a 45-degree angle. In the capital, Taipei, tiles fell from older buildings and within some newer office complexes.

People being evacuated after a tsunami warning following a powerful quake in Taiwan on April 3. Photo: PTI/AP

Multiple aftershocks

Taiwan’s earthquake monitoring agency gave the magnitude as 7.2 while the US Geological Survey put it at 7.4. It struck at 7.58 am about 18 km south-southwest of Hualien and was about 35 km (21 miles) deep.

The head of Taiwan’s earthquake monitoring bureau, Wu Chien-fu, said effects were detected as far away as Kinmen, a Taiwanese-controlled island off the coast of China. Multiple aftershocks were felt in Taipei in the hour after the initial quake.

The USGS said one of the subsequent quakes was 6.5 magnitude and 11.8 km (7 miles) deep.

Things returned to normal in capital city Taipei

Train service was suspended across the island of 23 million people, as was the subway service in Taipei. But things quickly returned to normal in the capital, with children going to school and the morning commute appearing to be normal.

Schools evacuated their students to sports fields, equipping them with yellow safety helmets. Some also covered themselves with textbooks to guard against falling objects as aftershocks continued.

Despite the quake striking at the height of the morning rush hour just before 8 am, the initial panic faded quickly 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.

Authorities said they had only expected a relatively mild quake of magnitude 4 and accordingly did not send out alerts.

Quake scared people who are used to such shaking

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,” Taipei resident Hsien-hsuen Keng said. ”I was awakened by the earthquake. I had never felt such intense shaking before.”

She said her fifth-floor apartment shook so hard that “apart from earthquake drills in elementary school, this was the first time I had experienced such a situation.”

The two nuclear power stations in Taiwan were not affected.

The Taipei city government said the MRT was in operation after the tremor had passed, but almost 90,000 households were without power.

Taiwan’s leading manufacturer of semiconductors that produces most of the world’s most advanced semiconductors, TSMC, evacuated its production lines after the quake, according to Bloomberg News.

Biggest in Taiwan since 1999

The Japan Meteorological Agency forecast a tsunami of up to 3 metres (9.8 feet) for the southern Japanese island group of Okinawa. A wave of 30 cm (about 1 feet) was detected on the coast of Yonaguni island about 15 minutes after the quake struck. JAMA said waves likely also hit the coasts of Miyako and Yaeyama islands.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said there was no tsunami threat to Hawaii or the US Pacific territory of Guam.

Hualien was last struck by a deadly quake in 2018, which collapsed 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.

Japan, China, Philippines, Hawaii, Guam unaffected

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.

Residents of China's Fujian province reported violent shaking, according to Jimu News, an online outlet. One man told Jimu that the shaking awakened him and lasted about a minute.

In the Philippines, residents along the northern coast were told to evacuate to higher ground, but no major tsunami was reported about three hours after the quake. Villagers in the provinces of Batanes, Cagayan, Ilocos Norte and Isabela were asked not to return to their homes until the tsunami alert was lifted, Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology Teresito Bacolcol said.

The Japan Meteorological Agency downgraded its forecast from 3 metres (9.8 feet) to 1 metre (3.3 feet). One island had a wave of about 30 centimetres (a foot), while smaller waves were detected in other islands.

Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshimasa Hayashi said there has been no report of injury or damage in Japan. He urged the residents in the Okinawa region to stay on safe ground until all tsunami advisories were lifted. He cautioned people against disinformation and urged them to stay calm and assist others.

An official from Japan’s meteorological agency urged people to continue evacuating until the advisory was lifted. The agency has warned that aftershocks may be likely over the next one week.

China issued no warnings for the Chinese mainland, and there was no threat for Hawaii and Guam.

About three hours after the earthquake, the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said the threat had largely passed for all areas with waves being reported only in Taiwan and southern Japan.

(With agency inputs)

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