Nine dead and hundreds injured in powerful earthquake in Taiwan

Taiwanese authorities said the quake and its aftershocks were the strongest on the island in 25 years, and warned that more tremors could follow 
Esta foto tomada por la Agencia Central de Noticias de Taiwán (CNA) el 3 de abril de 2024 muestra al presidente electo de Taiwán y actual vicepresidente Lai Ching-te (3º dcha.) inspeccionando los daños en Hualien, tras el fuerte terremoto que sacudió el este de Taiwán – PHOTO/CNA/AFP
This photo taken by Taiwan's Central News Agency (CNA) on April 3, 2024 shows Taiwan's President-elect and current Vice President Lai Ching-te (3rd right) inspecting the damage in Hualien, after a powerful earthquake struck eastern Taiwan - PHOTO/CNA/AFP

A powerful earthquake with a magnitude of more than 7 caused at least nine deaths and more than 800 injuries in Taiwan on Wednesday, along with damage to dozens of buildings and tsunami warnings on the East Asian coast that were eventually dismissed. 

  1. "Strongest in 25 years"
  2. Tsunami warnings

Taiwanese authorities said the quake and its aftershocks were the strongest on the island in 25 years, and warned that more tremors could occur in the coming days. 

All of the deaths occurred in Hualien County, the closest point to the quake's epicentre in the east of the island, the fire service said. In addition, 821 people were injured, the source added, without specifying the severity of their injuries. 

"Everything was shaking violently. The pictures on the wall, the television set and the liquor cabinet fell down," a resident of the city of Hualien told local television station SET TV. 

Local media showed numerous multi-storey buildings in Hualien leaning dangerously after the quake. 

In New Taipei City in the north, a warehouse collapsed, but more than 60 people emerged alive from the rubble, the mayor said.

"Strongest in 25 years"

The US Geological Survey (USGS) said Wednesday's quake had a magnitude of 7.4 and struck just before 08H00 local time (00H00 GMT). The Taiwanese meteorological agency estimated the magnitude at 7.2, while the Japanese agency put the magnitude at 7.5. 

The epicentre was 18 kilometres south of Hualien, with a depth of 34.8 km, the USGS said. 

"The earthquake was close to land and shallow. It was felt throughout Taiwan and the islands (...). It is the strongest in 25 years," Wu Chien-fu, director of the Taiwan Seismological Centre, told reporters. 

In September 1999, a 7.6 magnitude earthquake killed some 2,400 people in Taiwan in what is still the deadliest natural disaster in the territory's history. 

Taiwan's president, Tsai Ing-wen, called for coordination between local and central agencies and announced that the military would support rescue and relief efforts. 

Authorities deployed bulldozers to remove rocks blocking roads to Hualien, according to local broadcasters. 

The roads leading to Hualien pass through numerous tunnels and authorities fear that vehicles may have been trapped inside. 

"We must check carefully how many people are trapped and rescue them quickly," Vice President Lai Ching-te, who takes office as president in May, told reporters. 

Strict building regulations and social awareness of such disasters appear to have prevented a major catastrophe in Taiwan, which is regularly hit by earthquakes because of its location between two tectonic plates.

Esta imagen de la Agencia Nacional de Bomberos de Taiwán, tomada y publicada el 3 de abril de 2024, muestra a miembros de un equipo de rescate buscando supervivientes en un edificio dañado en Hualien, tras el fuerte terremoto que sacudió el este de Taiwán – PHOTO/Handout/AGENCIA NACIONAL DE INCENDIOS DE TAIWÁN/AFP
This image from Taiwan's National Fire Agency, taken and released on April 3, 2024, shows members of a rescue team searching for survivors in a damaged building in Hualien, after a powerful earthquake struck eastern Taiwan - PHOTO/Handout/Taiwan NATIONAL FIRE AGENCY/AFP

Tsunami warnings

The earthquake was felt across Taiwan and had several aftershocks, including one of magnitude 6.5 near Hualien, according to the island's meteorological agency. 

In the capital Taipei, underground traffic was suspended for nearly an hour, and authorities asked people to check for gas leaks. 

Taiwanese semiconductor maker TSMC, the world's largest, briefly halted production at some plants, an official told AFP. 

The shock reached the other side of the Taiwan Strait, in the Fujian region of mainland China, or the semi-autonomous city of Hong Kong. 

It also triggered tsunami warnings in Taiwan, the southwestern islands of Japan and several provinces in the Philippines, although they were lifted shortly afterwards. 

In Japan, authorities temporarily suspended air traffic at Naha airport on the island of Okinawa. 

A Japanese government spokesman said no casualties were reported in that region, although Japan's meteorological agency detected tsunami waves of up to 30 centimetres on some of its islands.