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Massive magnitude 7.4 earthquake rocks Taiwan with four dead and more than 50 injured

Ben Blanchard and Yimou Lee
Reuters
4 Min Read
A man checks a partially collapsed building in Hualien after the 7.2 magnitude quake.
A man checks a partially collapsed building in Hualien after the 7.2 magnitude quake. Credit: AP

At least four people are dead and more than 50 are injured after Taiwan endured its biggest earthquake in 25 years in a 7.2 magnitude event that also sparked tsunami warnings for the islands of southern Japan and the Philippines.

Taiwan’s fire department reported the casualties on Wednesday from Hualien County, near the quake’s epicentre, as television stations showed footage of buildings at precarious angles in the sparsely populated eastern county.

In the capital of Taipei, tiles fell from older buildings and within some newer office complexes, while debris fell from some building sites. 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.

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The quake, which knocked out power in several parts of Taipei, hit at a depth of 15.5km just off the eastern coast of Taiwan, according to Taiwan’s Central Weather Administration.

Japan’s weather agency said several small tsunami waves reached parts of the southern prefecture of Okinawa, and later downgraded the earlier tsunami warning to an advisory. It revised the magnitude to 7.7.

The Philippines Seismology Agency also issued a warning for residents in coastal areas of several provinces, urging them to evacuate to higher ground.

The quake was felt in Shanghai, a Reuters witness said. Chinese state media said it was also felt in Fuzhou, Xiamen, Quanzhou and Ningde in China’s Fujian province.

The depth of the magnitude 7.5 quake was shallow which experts say can make the impact worse. 
The depth of the magnitude 7.5 quake was shallow which experts say can make the impact worse.  Credit: X formerly Twitter/X formerly Twitter

Aftershocks could still be felt hours afterwards in Taipei, according to a Reuters witness, with at least 25 aftershocks registered so far, according to Taiwan’s central weather administration.

China Earthquake Networks Centre recorded five aftershocks of around five magnitude in Taiwan within an hour after the initial quake.

That initial quake brought morning traffic along the east coast to 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.

Despite the quake striking at the height of the morning rush hour just before 8am, the initial panic faded quickly on the island that is regularly rocked by temblors and prepares for them with drills at schools and notices issued via public media and mobile phone.

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 Taipei city government said it had not received any reports of damage and the city’s MRT was up and running soon after, while electricity operator Taipower said more than 87,000 households in Taiwan were still without power.

Southern Taiwan Science Park, where semiconductor giant Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co has a plant, said companies were operating without impact.

TSMC said its safety systems are operating normally.

The earthquake knocked out powerlines and brought down buildings.
The earthquake knocked out powerlines and brought down buildings. Credit: X formerly Twitter

“To ensure the safety of personnel, some fabs were evacuated according to company procedure. We are currently confirming the details of the impact,” according to the company.

Taiwan’s official central news agency said the quake was the biggest to hit the island since 1999 when a 7.6 magnitude tremor killed around 2400 people and destroyed or damaged 50,000 buildings in one of the island nation’s worst-recorded quakes.

Taiwan’s Central Weather Administration said the earthquake registered the second-highest intensity of an “Upper 6” in Hualien county, on the 1-7 intensity scale.

In an Upper 6 earthquake, most unreinforced concrete-block walls collapse and people find it impossible to remain standing or move without crawling, the Japan Meteorological Agency says.

Taiwan lies along the Pacific ‘Ring of Fire’, the line of seismic faults encircling the Pacific Ocean where most of the world’s earthquake’s occur.

Professor Alan Collins, the Douglas Mawson Professor of Earth Sciences at the University of Adelaide said Taiwan actually lay on a “tectonic location” where the edge of the Asian mainland is being driven under the Phillippine Sea tectonic plate.

“The magnitude 7.4 earthquake in Hualien, Taiwan, lies at an incredibly interesting plate tectonic setting,” he said.

“The earthquake formed as a thrust, where the crust is compressed horizontally and a part of the Earth’s surface is pushed up over the bit in front of it - a bit like a piggy-back!

“The earthquake epicentre lies just where this subduction zone system hits a second subduction zone that is trying to underthrust the whole lot down to the north under the East China Sea”.

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