Taiwan hit by strongest quake in 25 years, killing at least 9 people

A partially collapsed building is seen in Hualien, eastern Taiwan after powerful earthquake
A partially collapsed building is seen in Hualien, eastern Taiwan after powerful earthquake Copyright TVBS/AP
By Euronews with AP
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Taiwan’s earthquake monitoring agency gave the magnitude as 7.2 while the US Geological Survey put it at 7.4.

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Taiwan was hit by the strongest earthquake in a quarter century during the morning rush hour on Wednesday, damaging buildings and causing the deaths of at least nine people.

The island's national fire agency says 70 miners are trapped in two coal mines in Hualien County, due to the quake. 

Sixty-four people were trapped in one coal mine, and six people were in a different mine, the agency said.

The earthquake sent people scrambling out the windows of damaged buildings and halted train service throughout the island.

A tsunami warning was triggered but later lifted.

The quake, which also injured hundreds, was centred off the coast of rural, mountainous Hualien County, where some buildings leaned at severe angles, their ground floors crushed. 

Just over 150 kilometres away in the capital of Taipei, tiles fell from older buildings, and schools evacuated their students to sports fields, equipping them with yellow safety helmets. Some children covered themselves with textbooks to guard against falling objects as aftershocks continued.

Nine people died in the quake, which struck just before 8 a.m., according to Taiwan’s national fire agency. Another 934 people were injured.

The local United Daily News reported three hikers were killed in rockslides in Taroko National Park, which is in Hualien, and that a van driver died in the same area when boulders hit the vehicle.

Meanwhile, authorities said they had lost contact with 50 people in minibuses in the national park after the quake downed phone networks. 

The quake and aftershocks also caused 24 landslides and damage to 35 roads, bridges and tunnels.

Taiwan’s earthquake monitoring agency said the quake was 7.2 magnitude while the U.S. Geological Survey put it at 7.4. It struck about 18 kilometres off of Hualien, on Taiwan's east coast, and was about 35 kilometres deep. Multiple aftershocks followed.

Traffic along the East Coast was at a virtual standstill after the earthquake, with landslides and falling debris hitting tunnels and highways.

Train service was suspended across the island of 23 million people, with some tracks twisted by the stress of the quake, as was subway service in Taipei, where sections of a newly constructed elevated line split apart but did not collapse.

The initial panic after the earthquake quickly faded on the island, which prepares for such events with drills at schools and notices issued via public media and mobile phones.

By noon, the metro station in the busy northern Taipei suburb of Beitou was again buzzing with people commuting to jobs and people arriving to visit the hot springs or travel the mountain paths at the base of an extinct volcano.

The earthquake was felt in Shanghai and several provinces along China’s southeastern coast, according to Chinese media. China and Taiwan are about 160 kilometres apart.

The Japan Meteorological Agency said a tsunami of 30 centimetres was detected on the coast of Yonaguni island about 15 minutes after the quake struck. Smaller waves were measured in Ishigaki and Miyako islands. All alerts in the region had been lifted by Wednesday afternoon.

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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. Quakes regularly jolt it and its population is among the best prepared in the world for them. But authorities said they had expected a relatively mild earthquake and did not send out alerts. 

The eventual tremor was strong enough to scare even people who are used to such shaking.

“I’ve grown accustomed to (earthquakes). But today was the first time I was scared to tears by an earthquake,” 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.”

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