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Earthquake in Taiwan blamed for at least 9 deaths as buildings and roads seriously damaged

Search and rescue after deadly Taiwan earthquake
Search and rescue efforts underway after deadly Taiwan earthquake 01:50

Taipei, Taiwan —  Taiwan's strongest earthquake in a quarter century rocked the island during the morning rush hour Wednesday, damaging buildings and highways and leaving nine people dead. In the capital, Taipei, tiles fell from older buildings as the earthquake shook the city, and schools evacuated their students to sports fields, equipping them with yellow safety helmets. 

A five-story building in Hualien County, near the quake's offshore epicenter, was left leaning at a 45-degree angle, with its first floor collapsed.

Taiwan's national fire agency said nine people died in the quake, which struck just before 8 a.m. The local United Daily News reported three hikers died in rockslides in Taroko National Park and a van driver died in the same area after boulders hit the vehicle.

Firefighters work at the site where a building collapsed following the earthquake, in Hualien
Firefighters work at the site where a building collapsed following an earthquake in Hualien, Taiwan, in this handout provided by Taiwan's National Fire Agency on April 3, 2024.  Taiwan National Fire Agency / Handout via REUTERS

The agency said authorities have lost contact with 50 people in minibuses after the quake downed phone networks. More than 70 other people are trapped, but believed to be alive, including some in a coal mine. Another 882 have been injured.

Taiwan's earthquake monitoring agency said the temblor struck just before 8:00 a.m. local time and gave the magnitude as 7.2, while the U.S. Geological Survey put it at 7.4. It hit offshore, about 11.1 miles south-southwest of the east coast county of Hualien and was about  21 miles deep. Multiple aftershocks followed, and the USGS said one had a  magnitude of 6.5 and was 7 miles deep. Shallower quakes tend to cause more surface damage.

Train service was suspended across the island of 23 million people, as was subway service in Taipei, where a newly constructed above-ground line partially separated. The national legislature, a converted school built before World War II, also had damage to walls and ceilings.

Traffic along the east coast was at a virtual standstill, with landslides and falling debris hitting tunnels and highways in the mountainous region.

Kindergarten children evacuate to a park on higher ground after receiving a tsunami warning in Naha, Okinawa prefecture in Japan on April 3, 2024. STR/JIJI Press/AFP via Getty Images

Social media platforms were full of video and images of buildings around the country swaying as the quake struck.

Despite the quake hitting at the height of the morning rush hour, the initial panic faded quickly on the island, which is regularly rocked by temblors and prepares for them with drills at schools and notices issued via public media and mobile phone.

Authorities said they'd only expected a relatively mild quake of magnitude 4 and accordingly didn't send out alerts.

Residents react   

Still, the quake was strong enough to scare people who are used to such shaking.

"Earthquakes are a common occurrence, and I've grown accustomed to them. But today was the first time I was scared to tears by an earthquake," Taipei resident Hsien-hsuen Keng said. "I was awakened by the earthquake. I had never felt such intense shaking before."

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

Kelvin Hwang, a guest at a hotel in Taipei, 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 struck by a deadly quake in 2018. It collapsed a historic hotel and other buildings.

Taiwan's worst recent quake struck on Sept. 21, 1999, with a magnitude of 7.7, causing 2,400 deaths, injuring around 100,000 and destroying thousands of buildings.

Worst Taiwan Quake in 25 Years Levels Buildings
Damage to houses and a road are seen following an earthquake in New Taipei City, Taiwan, on April 3, 2024. An Rong Xu / Bloomberg via Getty Images

Tsunamis concern fades 

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 for all areas, with waves being reported only in Taiwan and southern Japan. 

The Japan Meteorological Agency said a tsunami wave of about a foot was detected on the coast of Yonaguni island about 15 minutes after the quake struck. Smaller waves were measured in Ishigaki and Miyako islands. Japan sent military aircraft to gather information about the impact around the Okinawa region, where many U.S. troops are stationed.

Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshimasa Hayashi said there hadn't been any reports of injury or damage there.  

The earthquake was felt in Shanghai and several provinces along China's southeast coast, according to Chinese media. China and Taiwan are about 100 miles apart. China issued no tsunami warnings for the Chinese mainland.

Residents of China's Fujian province reported violent shaking, according to Jimu News, an online outlet. One man told Jimu the shaking awakened him and lasted about a minute.

In the Philippines, residents along the northern coast were told to evacuate to higher ground, but no major tsunami was reported.

Taiwan sits on 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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