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Taiwan’s strongest earthquake in nearly 25 years damages buildings and leaves four dead

TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) — Taiwan’s strongest earthquake in a quarter-century struck the island during the morning rush hour on Wednesday, damaging buildings and highways and leaving four people dead.

According to Taiwan’s National Fire Department, four people died and at least 57 were injured in the quake shortly before 8 a.m. in Hualien County. The local United Daily News reported that three hikers died in rockfalls in Taroko National Park near the offshore epicenter.

A five-story building in Hualien appeared to be heavily damaged, with the first floor collapsing and the rest standing at a 45-degree angle. In the capital Taipei, tiles fell from older buildings and some newer office complexes, while debris fell from some construction sites. Schools evacuated their students to sports fields and provided them with yellow protective helmets. Some also covered themselves with textbooks to protect themselves from falling objects as the aftershocks continued.

Train service on the island of 23 million people was suspended, as was subway service in Taipei, where a newly built above-ground line was partially severed. The National Legislative Building, a converted pre-World War II school, also had damage to its walls and ceilings.

Traffic along the East Coast came to a virtual standstill, and landslides and falling debris hit tunnels and highways in the mountainous region. There was damage to vehicles, but it was unclear whether anyone was injured.

Despite the quake striking at the height of the morning rush hour just before 8 a.m., the initial panic quickly subsided on the island, which is regularly hit by earthquakes and prepares for them with drills in schools and announcements on public media and cell phones.

Authorities said they only expected a relatively mild quake of magnitude 4 and therefore did not send out warnings.

Still, the earthquake was strong enough to frighten people accustomed to such tremors.

“Earthquakes are common and I’ve gotten used to them. But today was the first time I was afraid of an earthquake,” said Hsien-hsuen Keng from Taipei. “I was woken up by the earthquake. I had never felt such a strong shaking before.”

She said her fifth-floor apartment shook so badly that “apart from the earthquake drills in elementary school, this was the first time I had experienced a situation like this.”

Hualien was last hit by a deadly earthquake in 2018, which caused a historic hotel and other buildings to collapse. Taiwan’s worst quake in recent years occurred on September 21, 1999, with a magnitude of 7.7. It claimed 2,400 lives, injured around 100,000 and destroyed thousands of buildings.

The Japan Meteorological Agency said a tsunami wave of 30 centimeters (about 1 foot) was detected on the coast of Yonaguni Island about 15 minutes after the quake. Smaller waves were measured on the islands of Ishigaki and Miyako. Japan sent military aircraft to collect information about the impact in the Okinawa region.

Taiwan’s earthquake monitoring agency put the magnitude at 7.2, while the US Geological Survey put it at 7.4. It struck about 18 kilometers (11.1 miles) south-southwest of Hualien and was about 35 kilometers (21 miles) deep. Several aftershocks followed, and the USGS said one of the following quakes had a magnitude of 6.5 and a depth of 11.8 kilometers (7 miles). Shallower quakes tend to cause more surface damage.

According to Chinese media, the earthquake was felt in Shanghai and several provinces along China’s southeast coast. China and Taiwan are about 160 kilometers (100 miles) apart. China has not issued any tsunami warnings for mainland China.

According to Jimu News, an online portal, residents of China’s Fujian province reported violent tremors. A man told Jimu that the shaking woke him up and lasted for about a minute.

In the Philippines, residents along the northern coast were ordered to evacuate to higher ground, but no major tsunami was reported about three hours after the quake.

Villagers in Batanes, Cagayan, Ilocos Norte and Isabela provinces were asked not to return to their homes until the tsunami warning was lifted, said Teresito Bacolcol of the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology.

Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshimasa Hayashi said there were no reports of injuries or damage in Japan. He urged residents of the Okinawa region to remain on high ground until all tsunami warnings are lifted. He warned people about disinformation and urged them to remain calm and help others.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said there was no tsunami threat to Hawaii or the U.S. Pacific territory of Guam. About three hours after the earthquake, it said the threat had largely passed in all areas, with only waves reported in Taiwan and southern Japan.

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

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Associated Press journalists Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo, Simina Mistreanu in Taipei, Taiwan, Ken Moritsugu in Beijing, Lorian Belanger in Bangkok, Jim Gomez in Manila, Philippines, and Audrey McAvoy in Honolulu contributed to this report.

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