Taiwan hit by strongest quake in 25 years; 9 killed, over 900 injured

By
Reuters
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  • Earthquake kills seven, more than 700 injured.
  • Epicentre just off Taiwan's sparsely populated east coast.
  • Semiconductor giant TSMC evacuates production lines.

At least nine people were killed and over 900 injured as a 7.2 magnitude earthquake — the strongest to hit Taiwan in 25 years — rocked the Island nation on Wednesday.

According to the Taiwan government, four people died in the mountainous, sparsely populated eastern county of Hualien near where the epicentre was.

The fire department said 77 people remained trapped, some in collapsed buildings in Hualien. It also added that over 100 buildings were damaged.

Taiwan television stations showed footage of buildings at precarious angles in Hualien, where the quake struck just offshore around 8am (0000GMT) as people were going to work and school.

The quake was centred just off the east coast at a depth of 15.5km (9.6 miles), according to Taiwan's Central Weather Administration.

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

The presidential office said president-elect Lai Ching-te, who takes office next month, would visit Hualien later on Wednesday.

Video showed rescuers using ladders to help people out of windows, while elsewhere, massive landslides caused by the tremors carved down hillsides.

There was also strong shaking felt on Taipei's subway system, which closed briefly to evacuate passengers though service resumed soon after on most lines.

Japan's weather agency, which put the earthquake's magnitude at 7.7, said several small tsunami waves reached parts of the southern prefecture of Okinawa.

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

Firefighters work at the site where a building collapsed following the earthquake, in Hualien, Taiwan, in this handout provided by Taiwans National Fire Agency on April 3, 2024. —Reuters
Firefighters work at the site where a building collapsed following the earthquake, in Hualien, Taiwan, in this handout provided by Taiwan's National Fire Agency on April 3, 2024. —Reuters

Taiwan also issued a tsunami warning but reported no damage from that, and the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Hawaii later said the risk of damaging tsunami waves had passed.

Aftershocks could still be felt in Taipei, with more than 50 aftershocks registered, according to Taiwan's central weather administration.

Chinese state media said the quake was felt in China's Fujian province, while a Reuters witness said it was also felt in Shanghai.

Electricity operator Taipower said most power had been restored, adding that the island's two nuclear power stations were not affected by the temblor.

Taiwan's high-speed rail operator said no damage or injuries were reported on its trains, but noted trains will be delayed while it carries out inspections.

Semiconductor giant Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co, a major Apple and Nvidia supplier, said it had evacuated some fabrication plants and its safety systems were operating normally.

"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.

It later added that those evacuated were beginning to return to their workplaces.

A view of a damaged apartment following an earthquake offshore, in New Taipei City, Taiwan April 3, 2024. — Reuters
A view of a damaged apartment following an earthquake offshore, in New Taipei City, Taiwan April 3, 2024. — Reuters

Taiwan's benchmark share index .TWII largely brushed off the impact of the earthquake, closing down 0.6%. TSMC's Taipei-listed shares ended down 1.3%.

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 2,400 people and destroyed or damaged 50,000 buildings in one of Taiwan'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.