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A magnitude 7.4 earthquake in Taiwan kills several people, injures hundreds and leaves dozens stranded

Taipei, Taiwan – Taiwan’s strongest earthquake in a quarter century struck the island during the morning rush hour on Wednesday, damaging buildings and highways, killing at least seven people and triggering tsunami warnings for Japan and the Philippines that were later lifted.

Taiwan’s earthquake monitoring agency put the magnitude at 7.2, while the US Geological Survey put it at 7.4. It struck offshore about 11.1 miles south-southwest of the east coast city and county of Hualien and was about 21 miles deep. Several aftershocks followed, and the USGS said one was magnitude 6.5 and 7 miles deep. Shallower quakes tend to cause more surface damage.

Reuters reports that 711 people were injured and 77 were trapped, according to Taiwan’s national fire department.

According to the fire department, four of the fatalities in the quake occurred shortly before 8 a.m. in the mountainous, sparsely populated Hualien county. The local United Daily News reported that three hikers died in rockfalls in Taroko National Park near the offshore epicenter. And Agence France-Presse said a truck driver died when his vehicle was caught in a landslide in the area.

A five-story building in Hualien appeared to be badly damaged: the first floor collapsed and the rest leaned at a 45-degree angle.

Firefighters work at the site in Hualien where a building collapsed after the earthquake
Firefighters work at the site of a building collapse following an earthquake in Hualien, Taiwan, in this April 3, 2024, handout from Taiwan’s National Fire Agency.

Taiwan National Fire Agency / Handout via REUTERS

In the capital Taipei, tiles fell from older buildings and some newer office complexes, as well as debris from some construction sites. Schools evacuated their students to sports fields and provided them with yellow protective helmets. Some students 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.

Kindergarten children are evacuated to a higher elevation park after receiving a tsunami warning in Naha, Okinawa Prefecture, Japan, April 3, 2024.

STR/JIJI Press/AFP via Getty Images

Social media was abuzz with shared videos and images of buildings across the country shaking during the quake.

Although the quake struck in the middle of the morning rush hour, 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 expected only a relatively mild quake of magnitude 4 and therefore did not send out warnings.

Residents react

Still, the quake 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 earthquake drills in elementary school, this was the first time I had experienced a situation like this.”

Kelvin Hwang, a guest at a Taipei hotel, told AFP he “wanted to run out, but I wasn’t dressed. “That was so strong,” so he sought shelter in the elevator lobby on the ninth floor.

Hualien was last hit by a deadly quake in 2018. A historic hotel and other buildings collapsed.

Taiwan’s most severe recent quake 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 worst earthquake in Taiwan in 25 years destroys buildings
Damage to houses and a street is seen after an earthquake in New Taipei City, Taiwan, on April 3, 2024.

To Rong Xu/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Concern about the tsunami is easing

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.

The Japan Meteorological Agency said a tsunami wave about 30 centimeters high 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, where many US troops are stationed.

Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshimasa Hayashi said there were no reports of injuries or damage there. 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.

According to Chinese media, the earthquake was felt in Shanghai and several provinces along China’s southeast coast. China and Taiwan are about 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, the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology said.

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

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