Taiwan’s biggest earthquake in 25 years leaves 9 dead, hundreds injured

Damaged buildings in Hualien, after a major earthquake hit Taiwan's east on April 3. PHOTO: AFP
Taiwanese TV stations showed footage of buildings standing at precarious angles in Hualien. PHOTO: REUTERS
The quake in eastern Taiwan struck at a depth of 15.5km, just as people were headed for work and school. PHOTOS: AFP
Rescue workers searching for survivors on April 3 in a damaged building in Hualien, Taiwan. PHOTO: AFP
An employee clearing broken bottles at a supermarket in Yilan, Taiwan, after the quake hit. PHOTO: AFP
Emergency workers helping a survivor who was rescued from a damaged building in New Taipei City on April 3. PHOTO: AFP
The strong quake knocked out power in several parts of Taipei, according to a Reuters witness. PHOTO: AFP
A brick wall in a house collapsed in Taipei, after a major earthquake hit eastern Taiwan on April 3. PHOTO: AFP
A screen broadcasting a subway train suspension announcement in Taipei, following an earthquake in eastern Taiwan on April 3. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

TAIPEI – Taiwan’s biggest earthquake in at least 25 years killed nine people on April 3 and injured more than 900, while 50 workers travelling on minibuses to a hotel in a national park were missing.

Some buildings were tilting at precarious angles in the mountainous, sparsely populated eastern county of Hualien, near the epicentre of the magnitude-7.4 quake, which struck just offshore at about 8am and triggered massive landslides.

Ms Linda Chen, 48, said her apartment in downtown Hualien City had been so badly damaged in an earlier earthquake in 2018 that her family had to move house. But her new apartment block was damaged, too, in the latest earthquake.

“We worry the house could collapse any time. We thought we had already experienced it once in Hualien and it would not hit us again, because God has to be fair,” she said. “We are frightened. We are so nervous.”

The quake struck at a depth of 15.5km, just as people were heading to work and school, setting off a tsunami warning for southern Japan and the Philippines that was later lifted.

Video showed rescuers using ladders to help trapped people out of windows. Strong tremors in Taipei forced the subway system to close briefly, although most lines resumed service.

The fire authorities said they evacuated about 70 people trapped in tunnels near Hualien City, including two Germans.

But they lost contact with 50 workers aboard four minibuses heading to a hotel in Taroko Gorge, a national park, they said, and rescuers were looking for them. Another 80 people were trapped in a mining area, though it was not immediately clear if they were inside a mine.

A woman who runs a bed-and-breakfast accommodation in Hualien City said she scrambled to calm her guests who were frightened by the quake.

“This is the biggest earthquake I have ever experienced,” said the woman who asked to be identified by her family name, Chan.

The government put the number of injured at 946.

Singapore’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said on April 3 that there have been no reports of Singaporeans injured in the quake. It added that the Singapore Government is saddened by the loss of lives and damage caused by the earthquake, and extends its condolences and sympathies to those affected.

The ministry said it has been reaching out to e-registered Singaporeans in the regions affected by the earthquake and is rendering the necessary consular assistance. In view of possible aftershocks, Singaporeans in Taiwan are advised to remain vigilant, take all necessary precautions for their personal safety and heed the instructions of the local authorities, it added.

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Speaking outside one of the collapsed buildings in Hualien, President-elect Lai Ching-te said: “At present, the most important thing... is to rescue people.”

The rail link to the area was expected to reopen on April 4, Mr Lai, who is set to take office in May, told reporters.

The White House said the US stood ready to provide any assistance necessary.

Taiwan’s air force said six F-16 fighter jets were slightly damaged at a major base in the city from which jets are often scrambled to see off incursions by China’s air force, but the aircraft are expected to return to service very soon.

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President Tsai Ing-wen called for local and central government agencies to coordinate with each other, and said the military would also be providing support.

“I’m deeply grateful for the messages of support we have received from around the world, and to our first responders for their life-saving work,” she said in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter.

Mr Wu Chien-fu, director of Taipei’s Central Weather Administration’s Seismology Centre, warned that the authorities are not ruling out that “there will be earthquakes with magnitude of 6.5 to 7 in three days which will be relatively close to the land”.

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 US Geological Survey put the quake’s magnitude at 7.4.

Check-in resumed at Okinawa’s main Naha airport, where flights had been suspended following the quake. TV footage showed people being allowed to check in again later in the day.

The Philippines Seismology Agency cancelled a tsunami warning in the country’s north after issuing it earlier, but few people in the lightly populated northern regions appear to have responded to the orders.

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

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Aftershocks could still be felt in Taipei, with more than 50 recorded, weather officials said.

Chinese state media said the quake was felt in China’s south-eastern province of Fujian, while a Reuters witness said it was also felt in the commercial hub of Shanghai.

Taiwan’s electricity operator Taipower said power had mostly 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 injury was reported on its trains, but added that trains will be delayed while it carries out inspections.

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Taipei residents received warnings from their local borough chiefs to check for gas leaks.

A major supplier of chips to Apple and Nvidia, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co (TSMC), said it evacuated some fabrication plants, and safety systems were operating normally. It added later that employees had begun to return to work.

Taiwan’s benchmark share index closed down at 0.6 per cent, largely brushing off the quake’s impact, while TSMC’s Taipei-listed shares ended down 1.3 per cent.

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Taiwan’s official Central News Agency said the quake was the biggest since 1999, when a magnitude-7.6 earthquake killed about 2,400 people and damaged or destroyed 50,000 buildings.

Taiwan weather officials said the intensity of the latest earthquake in Hualien county was at the second-highest level of “Upper 6” on an intensity scale of 1 to 7.

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.

Earthquakes are common in Japan, one of the world’s most seismically active areas. Japan accounts for about one-fifth of the world’s earthquakes of magnitude 6 or greater.

Japan was rocked by its deadliest quake in eight years on New Year’s Day when a 7.6-magnitude temblor struck in Ishikawa prefecture, on the western coast. More than 230 people died in the quake that left 44,000 homes fully or partially destroyed.

On March 11, 2011, the country’s north-east coast was struck by a 9-magnitude earthquake, the strongest quake in Japan on record, and a massive tsunami. Those events triggered the world’s worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl a quarter of a century earlier. REUTERS, AFP

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