Taiwan hit by strongest earthquake in 25 years, killing 9: What we know

Taiwan’s earthquake kills at least nine people, injures nearly 900, with 77 trapped in tunnels and collapsed buildings.

Taiwan was rocked by a magnitude 7.2 earthquake on Wednesday, the strongest to hit the island in 25 years. It has so far killed nine people, injured about 900 others and prompted a tsunami warning for southern Japan and the Philippines, which was later lifted.

Here is what we know so far:

What happened in Taiwan and when?

  • A powerful earthquake hit the east coast of Taiwan at 7:58am (23:58 GMT). It struck southwest of Hualien City, according to the United States Geological Survey (USGS).
  • At least 58 aftershocks followed, the USGS said. One of the subsequent earthquakes was of magnitude 6.5.
  • At least 26 buildings collapsed; 15 were located in Hualien City. Across Taiwan, one building fell in Changhua County on the west coast, according to Taiwan’s Fire Department. The earthquake was also felt in Shanghai, Hangzhou and Xiamen, according to Chinese media.
  • It triggered initial tsunami warnings in Taiwan, southern Japan and the Philippines. In Japan, at about 9:14am (00:14 GMT), a tsunami wave of 0.3 metres (1 foot) was detected off the coast of Yonaguni island. All warnings were later lifted.
  • The event also set off at least nine landslides on Suhua Highway in Hualien, according to Taiwan’s Central News Agency, which reported that part of the road had collapsed.
  • The exact intensity of the earthquake could not be confirmed. The Japanese weather agency put the earthquake’s magnitude at 7.7, while Taiwanese authorities put it at 7.2. USGS reported it at 7.4.
(Al Jazeera)

Where exactly did it happen?

  • According to USGS, the earthquake’s epicentre was located about 18km (11 miles) southwest of Hualien City and was about 35km (21 miles) deep.
  • Hualien City is on the island’s east coast on the Pacific Ocean. The city is popular with international tourists because it is the gateway to Taroko Gorge, one of Taiwan’s most scenic spots.
  • The heaviest damage was reported in Hualien County, near the epicentre.
  • Hualien City was last struck by a deadly earthquake in 2018, which collapsed a historic hotel and other buildings.

Interactive_Taiwan_Earthquake_Apr3_2024_2_7 killed

What do we know about the victims?

  • The Fire Department said at least nine people died, while 77 remain trapped. At least 882 people were confirmed injured while rescue work is ongoing.
  • Of those injured, 132 were in Hualien County, according to local media reports.
  • Three people were killed as they walked along the Dekalun Trail, a popular hiking path in the Taroko National Park. Another person killed was a truck driver whose vehicle was hit by a boulder on the Suhua Highway on the eastern coast.
  • At least two foreign citizens from Canada remain trapped in Taroko Gorge. According to the German dpa news agency, two German citizens were rescued in a tunnel on the Suhua Highway.
  • Fire authorities said about 60 of the estimated 77 people trapped were caught in a tunnel just north of Hualien City.
Firefighters work at the site where a building collapsed
Firefighters work at the site where a building collapsed following the earthquake, in Hualien [Reuters]

Is it safe now? What is the latest on the ground?

  • Given the frequency of earthquakes in Taiwan, which is positioned on a tectonic boundary between the Eurasian Plate and the Philippine Sea Plate, the government already has emergency measures in place for natural disasters. So the response to this morning’s earthquake was swift.
  • Taiwan could still be hit by aftershocks as high as magnitude 7 over the next three days, the island’s Central Weather Administration said.
  • More than 87,000 homes are without power on the island. “Roads, bridges and even a tunnel have collapsed, so there’s quite a lot of disruption and the military is working with first responders to get to the worst affected areas,” Al Jazeera’s Divya Gopalan, reporting from Taipei, said.
  • Four buildings partially collapsed, local authorities said. Residents of three of the buildings were safe, while rescue operations continued at the Uranus Building in Hualien. The building remains tilted sharply following the collapse of its ground floor.
  • Taiwanese chipmaking giant Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) evacuated some of its factories in Hsinchu and southern Taiwan, but it later said staff were returning to work. TSMC is a major semiconductor supplier to leading tech firms, including Apple and Nvidia.

What happens next?

  • Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen said soldiers would be deployed for rescue and recovery operations. The government said it has established a disaster response centre in Hualien.
  • Beyond Taiwan, according to the US Tsunami Warning Center, small tsunami waves less than 0.3 metres were forecast along the coasts of Guam, Indonesia, Northern Mariana Islands, Palau, Philippines, South Korea, Vietnam and Yap.
  • President-elect Lai Ching-te, who is set to take office next month, will visit Hualien later in the day, his office said.
Taiwan hit by most powerful quake in 25 years
Emergency workers assist a survivor trapped in a damaged building in New Taipei City [Taiwan’s Central News Agency via AFP]
Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies