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Taiwan: Hundreds injured in 'strongest quake in 25 years'

April 3, 2024

Authorities in Taiwan have reported several deaths and over 1,000 injuries on the east coast of the island. Scores of people were also trapped in tunnels and collapsed buildings.

A destroyed building in Hualien on April 3, 2024
The earthquake rocked the entire island of TaiwanImage: AFP

At least nine people were killed and more than 1,000 others were injured after an earthquake struck Taiwan just before 8 a.m. on Wednesday.

Taiwan's Central Weather Administration said the 7.2 magnitude earthquake struck around 25 kilometers southeast of Hualien county, where dozens of buildings collapsed.

Massive earthquake rocks Taiwan

"At present the most important thing, the top priority, is to rescue people," said President-elect Lai Ching-te, speaking outside a collapsed building in Hualien.

According to the fire department, at least 26 buildings had collapsed, more than half of which were in and around Hualien city.

"This is a city that's among the most prone to earthquakes in Taiwan," said DW's correspondent in Taipei, James Chater.

Authorities said late on Wednesday that at least 143 people were still trapped, including 71 miners from two cement companies, hikers in mountain caves and trails, and people in vehicles in tunnels.

Two Germans trapped in a tunnel in the Taroko National Park were later freed, German media reported.

"I've grown accustomed to [earthquakes], but today was the first time I was scared to tears," said Hsien-hsuen Keng, a resident who lives in a fifth-floor apartment in Taipei. "I was awakened by the earthquake. I had never felt such intense shaking before."

Quake 'the strongest in 25 years'

The director of Taipei's Seismological Center, Wu Chien-fu, told reporters that the earthquake was "the strongest in 25 years."

"The earthquake is close to land and it's shallow. It's felt all over Taiwan and offshore islands ... it's the strongest in 25 years since the [1999] earthquake," Wu told reporters, referring to a September 1999 quake measuring 7.6-magnitude that killed 2,400 people.

"The public should pay attention to relevant warnings and messages and be prepared for earthquake evacuation," Wu warned.

Taiwan experiences regular seismic activity, as the island is situated close to the junction of two tectonic plates, while nearby Japan experiences around 1,500 jolts every year.

"Since [the 1999 earthquake] Taiwan has introduced much more stringent regulation when it comes to earthquake-proofing infrastructure and buildings, and that's why we don't see the level of total damage in big cities like Taipei, or in the south in Kaohsiung as well, in the aftermath of earthquakes like this," Chater told DW.

Nevertheless, officials warned that there may be more tremors in the coming days. 

The United States said it "stands ready to provide any necessary assistance," the White House said Wednesday.

"We are monitoring reports of the earthquake impacting Taiwan and continue to monitor its potential impact on Japan," National Security Council spokeswoman Adrienne Watson added in a statement.

Taiwan quake: Emergency response focuses on Hualien

Japan downgrades tsunami warning

The Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) lifted an earlier tsunami warning for Japan's southern islands.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said on messaging platform X, formerly Twitter, that his country was ready to provide Taiwan with any necessary assistance.

Referring to Taiwan as Japan's "neighbor across the sea," he said he was deeply saddened by news of the earthquake.

In March 2011, a 9.0 magnitude earthquake struck the main Japanese island of Honshu. It triggered a tsunami that disabled the power supply that cooled three reactors at Japan's Fukushima nuclear power plant, triggering a nuclear disaster. Around 18,500 people were killed or missing presumed dead.

The Philippines had also issued warnings of "high tsunami waves" and called for the evacuation of coastal areas. The country's seismology agency later canceled the tsunami warning.

zc, tj, kb/rt (AP, Reuters, AFP)