Devastating Earthquake Strikes Taiwan, Leaving a Minimum of 9 Dead

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Devastating Earthquake Strikes Taiwan, Leaving a Minimum of 9 Dead

HONG KONG — A 7.4-magnitude earthquake struck Wednesday off Taiwan, killing nine people, injuring hundreds and collapsing buildings in the island’s most powerful tremor in at least 25 years.

The quake happened around 8 a.m. local time (8 p.m. Tuesday ET) at a depth of about 21 miles, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. It was about 11 miles south-southwest of Hualien City on the island’s east coast.

At least nine people died and 882 people were injured, Taiwan’s fire department said. Officials said the number of casualties could rise in the coming days.

The earthquake also prompted tsunami warnings that were later lifted in Taiwan, Japan and the Philippines.

Annie Lima, an American who has lived in Taiwan for almost 17 years and arrived in Hualien to visit friends on Tuesday, said she was still feeling aftershocks in the afternoon, hours after the initial quake.

“It was pretty scary,” she told NBC News in an interview. “In all the years that I’ve lived here and in Southern California before that I’ve felt a lot of earthquakes, but this was by far the strongest and the most frightening.” 

A damaged building in Hualien City, Taiwan, after a 7.4-magnitude earthquake struck Wednesday.TVBS via AP

When things started toppling, Lima said, she and her husband jumped to their feet and ran for the nearest doorway.

“Even there in a doorway on the second floor, we could barely keep our balance, you know, holding both sides of the doorway,” she said. “And all around us things were falling off the walls and off shelves, smashing and crashing everywhere.”

The damage was concentrated in the eastern Taiwan county of Hualien, near the quake’s epicenter, where officials said they were working to free 131 people who were trapped.

Video on social media showed a building in Hualien that appeared to be nine stories tall partially collapsed and left standing at an angle. Another, appearing to have five floors, was similarly situated.

Jason Delickta, an American living in nearby Meilun, said that as soon as he cleaned up at home, he headed over to his restaurant in Hualien, the Salt Lick Smokehouse & Grill, where the damage was “quite a bit worse.”

“We lost most of our plates, because they’re all on top of the line, and so they all were shaking and fell off,” he said. “We lost a lot of liquor bottles, beer bottles, glasses, things like that.”

Delickta had been expecting an influx of visitors this weekend, a four-day holiday in Taiwan for a traditional Chinese festival known as Tomb-Sweeping Day when people honor their ancestors. But with the earthquake having disrupted rail services and damaging the main road into Hualien, he said, there’s no easy way to get there at the moment.

“The damage to our restaurant wasn’t so bad, but the economic damage for this town will be — it’ll be more because of the loss of revenue,” said Delickta, who was also in Hualien in 2018 when a 6.4-magnitude earthquake killed 17 people.

The earthquake on Wednesday was felt in all parts of Taiwan, the Central News Agency reported. Metro systems in Taipei, the capital, as well as the cities of Taichung and Kaohsiung, were suspended before mostly resuming, the agency said.

A collapsed road in New Taipei City following the earthquake.An Rong Xu / Bloomberg via Getty Images

The earthquake knocked out power for more than 87,000 households and was followed by a series of aftershocks, the biggest of which measured 6.5, according to Taiwan’s Central Weather Administration. The agency listed the magnitude of the initial earthquake at 7.2.

Seismology official Wu Chien-fu said it was Taiwan’s strongest earthquake since 1999, when a 7.6-magnitude tremor killed about 2,400 people.

The USGS said the shaking from the initial quake would have been “very strong” in the Hualien area and strongly felt elsewhere.

A live camera on YouTube at Liyu Lake near Hualien that had been showing a peaceful, sunny scene began to violently shake at 7:58 a.m. local time.

Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen said Wednesday that a disaster response center had been set up and that the National Army would provide support to local governments. Citing the aftershocks, she said, “I would like to remind everyone not to take the elevator for the time being, and to pay more attention to safety.”

TSMC, one of the biggest companies in Taiwan’s crucial semiconductor manufacturing industry, said its safety systems were operating normally and that some fabrication plants had been evacuated as a preventive measure.

“All personnel are safe, and those evacuated are beginning to return to their workplaces,” the company said in a statement. “The company is currently confirming the details of the impact.”

A local resident inspects damage to a brick wall inside a home in Taipei.Central News Agency / AFP – Getty Images

Earlier Wednesday, officials in Japan issued a tsunami warning and an evacuation order for coastal areas of the southern prefecture of Okinawa, warning of waves up to 3 meters (about 10 feet) high. As of late morning, the biggest reported wave was 30 centimeters (about 12 inches) on the Japanese island of Yonaguni, which is close to Taiwan.

A tsunami warning and evacuation orders were also issued in parts of the Philippines.

Feelings of tremors were reported elsewhere in the region, including by social media users in Fujian, a province on China’s southeast coast that sits across from Taiwan. Videos posted online also showed chandeliers swaying in cities in other parts of China including Shanghai and Hangzhou.

In the Chinese territory of Hong Kong, the Hong Kong Observatory said it had received more than 100 reports of tremors, describing the vibration as akin to the “passing of light trucks.”

A spokesperson for the Taiwan Affairs Office in China, which claims Taiwan as its territory, said mainland authorities extended “sincere condolences to the affected compatriots in Taiwan,” and would closely monitor the situation and provide assistance in disaster relief.

Hualien City, about 70 miles southeast of Taipei, has a population of around 106,000. The county’s population is around 340,000.

Taiwan is on the so-called Ring of Fire, which circles the Pacific Basin and is known for earthquakes.

Jennifer Jett reported from Hong Kong, and Janis Mackey Frayer reported from Beijing.

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