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Taiwan rocked by biggest earthquake in 25 years as tsunami wave warnings issued

In Europe
April 03, 2024

At least four people were killed and over 50 injured in Taiwan‘s biggest earthquake in more than two decades, prompting authorities across the region to issue tsunami warnings.

Taiwan’s monitoring agency measured the earthquake at magnitude 7.2, while the US Geological Survey put it at 7.4. It struck at 7.58am local time, about 18km south-southwest of Hualien city at a depth of 35km.

Videos showed people experiencing violent shaking across Taiwan and there appears to be extensive damage to buildings and infrastructure. Multiple buildings in Hualien, a relatively sparsely populated city that’s popular with tourists, appeared heavily damaged, with photographs showing nine-storey buildings leaning at a 45-degree angle.

The effects of the earthquake were felt on mainland China and as far away as Taiwanese-controlled islands off the coast of China, said Wu Chien-fu, the head of Taiwan’s earthquake monitoring bureau.

Multiple aftershocks, one measuring 6.5 magnitude near Hualien, were also felt in the capital Taipei, the weather agency said.

A partially collapsed building is seen in Hualien (AP)

A partially collapsed building is seen in Hualien (AP)

Taiwan, Japan and the Philippines have issued tsunami warnings, with waves as high as three metres initially expected to slam the remote Japanese island group of Okinawa.

Authorities in Taiwan issued warnings through text messages to “remind people in coastal areas to be vigilant and take strict precautions and pay attention to the dangers caused by sudden surges in waves”.

Japan’s Self Defence Force has sent planes to the area to gather information about the tsunami impact around the Okinawa region, and said it was preparing shelters for evacuation, if necessary.

Damaged apartment following earthquake, in New Taipei City (REUTERS)

Damaged apartment following earthquake, in New Taipei City (REUTERS)

Japan later downgraded the tsunami advisory, reducing the height of waves expected to one metre. The first tsunami waves of at least 30 centimetres arrived at Yonaguni Island at 9.18 am local time, authorities said.

All flight operations have been suspended at Naha airport in Okinawa following the tsunami warning.

The Philippine government has asked people in coastal areas to immediately evacuate to higher ground as the islands brace for “high tsunami waves”.

High-speed rail services across Taiwan’s main island were suspended following the quake, as was the subway network in Taipei. But witnesses said things quickly returned to normal in the capital, with children going to school and the morning commute continuing.

“I wanted to run out but I wasn’t dressed. That was so strong,” Kelvin Hwang, a guest at a downtown hotel, told AFP.

Speaking about the ongoing aftershocks, the chief of Taiwan’s earthquake monitoring bureau said there was a chance that “there will be earthquakes with magnitude of 6.5 to 7 in three days which will be relatively close to the land”.

“The public should pay attention to relevant warnings and messages and be prepared for earthquake evacuation,” Mr Wu said.

Mainland China, which considers the self-governed island to be part of its sovereign territory, said it was highly concerned at reports of the earthquake and was willing to provide disaster relief assistance, according to Chinese state media. Such an offer is unlikely to be accepted, given the frought relations between the island and the mainland.

Wednesday’s quake is the largest to hit Taiwan since one in 1999 caused extensive damage and killed around 2,400 people.

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

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