April 12, 2024

Taiwan’s magnitude 7.4 earthquake kills 9 people and injures more than 1,000

The first earthquake was alarming enough: a rumbling more powerful than anything felt in Taiwan for a quarter century, lasting for more than a minute on Wednesday morning, causing property and even entire buildings to topple. The earthquake was so strong that tsunami warnings were sounded in Japan, China and the Philippines.

But then again, even in a fault-ridden place with long and heavy experience of earthquakes, the shaking of aftershock after aftershock was startling, lasting every few minutes all day.

The magnitude 7.4 quake killed nine people and injured at least 1,011 others, testing an expert earthquake response system that has served as a model in other places. In Hualien County, close to the epicenter, 71 people were trapped in two mining areas and dozens of others were stranded as of Wednesday evening, officials said. Forty flights were canceled or delayed. About 14,000 households were without water and 1,000 households were without electricity.

By late Wednesday evening, 201 aftershocks had been reported, many exceeding magnitude 5. With rain expected in the coming days, authorities warned of possible landslides.

“I was sleeping at home when the shaking started, and it kept shaking for so long,” said Chen Hsing-yun, a 26-year-old resident of Hualien who was with her 2-year-old child and her parents. in a third-floor apartment when the earthquake struck. “After the heavy earthquake stopped, I went downstairs with my baby, but then the tremors kept coming all day.”

Many residents were at home getting ready for work and school when the earthquake struck. Others were driving on the highway or out early in Taiwan’s national parks ahead of a four-day vacation. After the earthquake stopped, people across the island took to the streets to assess damaged buildings and quickly text reassurances to friends and relatives and send photos of shattered belongings.

But almost immediately, people felt the stomach-churning jolt of an aftershock. Taiwan is prone to earthquakes and small tremors are common, but these continued every few minutes throughout the day. By 3 p.m., there had been 101 consecutive quakes, with at least one quake of magnitude 6.5 and many greater than magnitude 5.

Officials said more aftershocks were likely over the next four days and warned residents against visiting the graves of ancestors, especially in the mountains, this weekend during the holiday, known as Ching Ming, meant to honor them. The forecast called for rain, which could make travel conditions more treacherous on damaged roads.

Although the earthquake will reverberate for a long time because it was so large, a large number of aftershocks is not unheard of for an earthquake of this size, said Yi-Ying Wen, an earthquake expert at National Chung Cheng University in Taiwan. “We can expect the size of the aftershocks to slowly become smaller and smaller over the next two weeks.”

The heaviest damage occurred in Hualien County.

In Hualien city, the provincial capital, rescuers were focused on a brick building with glass windows called the Uranus Building, which had partially collapsed and was leaning heavily to one side. Residents exited through windows and climbed down ladders, assisted by rescuers.

Fire officials said one person had died in the building, while about 20 others had been evacuated. Well into the night, construction workers used a crane to place huge concrete blocks around the tilting building to stabilize it. Hotels and shops down the street, including a 7-Eleven supermarket – a constant sight in Taiwan – remained open even as aftershocks continued to grip buildings near midnight.

“Hualien has had quite a few earthquakes, so many people knew what to do when the earthquake came – stay indoors and find a safe structure,” said Lin Chin-Ching, 47, who reopened his beer and barbecue restaurant in Hualien. after cleaning up broken kitchen utensils. “We did that.” But, he said, many people’s livelihoods would be affected.

“My restaurant is so busy because many others are a mess and haven’t cleaned up,” he said. The overarching concern, Mr Lin added, was the destruction of roads and tunnels, which could devastate a local economy heavily dependent on tourists. “Many buildings need to be inspected for damage that you cannot see. That will also take a long time.”

Rescuers freed dozens of people trapped elsewhere in Hualien County. Three hikers were killed by falling rocks on a trail in Taroko National Park, a popular spot known for a gorge that bisects mountains that rise steeply from the coast.

The provincial government opened evacuation areas for people to take shelter, such as high school gymnasiums and sports fields, as aftershocks continued to roll through the area.

Derik du Plessis, a 44-year-old South African who has lived in Hualien for 17 years, described the chaos and panic on the streets after the earthquake as people rushed to pick up their children and check on their homes.

Roads were closed, he said, and walls had fallen on cars. “At the moment people seem to have calmed down, but a lot of people are sitting on the road,” he said. “They don’t want to enter the buildings because there are still a lot of vibrations.”

Lin Jung, 36, owner of a shop selling sneakers in Hualien, said he was at home preparing to take his 16-month-old baby to a medical appointment when the earthquake struck. At first it felt like a series of small jolts, he said, but then “it suddenly turned into an intense earthquake that shook up and down.” The glass shade of a ceiling lamp fell and shattered. “All I could do was protect my baby,” he said.

The earthquake also shook the island’s west coast, completely toppling one building in Changhua County. Many rail services were halted as authorities inspected tracks for damage.

According to the US Geological Survey, the earthquake occurred during the morning commute, shortly before 8 a.m., at a depth of 22 miles.

Taiwan lies at the intersection of the Philippine Sea tectonic plate and the Eurasian plate, making it vulnerable to seismic activity. Hualien is located on several active fault lines and in 2018 an earthquake killed seventeen people there.

The earthquake struck Taiwan as many people here were preparing to travel for Tomb Sweeping Day on Thursday, when people in the Chinese-speaking world mourn the dead and make offerings at their graves. During the holiday weekend, there is normally a spike in travel as people visit relatives throughout Taiwan.

Authorities are working to restore rail services in Hualien and two-way traffic on the region’s highways, Wang Guo-cai, the island’s transportation minister, said at a news conference.

TSMC, the world’s largest maker of advanced semiconductors, briefly evacuated workers from its factories but said they were returning to work a few hours later. The company said its safety systems were operating normally and it was still assessing the impact. TSMC’s factories are clustered along Taiwan’s west coast, away from the earthquake epicenter.

All staff were safe, the company said. Yet chip production is highly precise and even short downtimes can cost millions of dollars.

Earthquake preparedness in Taiwan has evolved in recent decades in response to some of the island’s largest and most destructive earthquakes. In 1999, a magnitude 7.6 earthquake in Taiwan killed nearly 2,500 people.

That earthquake, which struck about 90 miles southwest of Taipei, was the second-deadliest in the island’s history, according to the USGS and the Central Weather Administration. More than 10,000 people were injured and more than 100,000 homes were destroyed or damaged.

In the years since, authorities have, among other things, established an urban search and rescue team and opened several emergency medical operations centers. And in 2018, after an earthquake in the eastern coastal city of Hualien killed 17 people and partially collapsed several buildings, the government ordered a wave of building inspections.

Taiwan has also improved its earthquake early warning system since the 1980s. And two years ago it introduced new building regulations that, among other things, require owners of vulnerable buildings to install ad hoc structural reinforcements.

Paul Mozur and Siyi Zhao contributed reporting.

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