Taiwan earthquake: Strongest in nearly 25 years leaves 9 dead

Taiwan’s strongest earthquake since 1999 hit the island early Wednesday during morning rush hour, damaging buildings and highways and leaving nine people dead, the Associated Press reported. 

Taiwan’s earthquake monitoring agency said the earthquake was 7.2 magnitude, while the U.S. Geological Survey put it at 7.4. It struck about 11.1 miles south-southwest of Hualien and was about 21 miles deep. Multiple aftershocks followed, and the USGS said one of the subsequent quakes was 6.5 magnitude and 7 miles deep. 

Shallower quakes tend to cause more surface damage. The earthquake triggered a tsunami warning that was later lifted.

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.

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 earthquake damages buildings, rattles residents

The Uranus Building at Xuanyuan Road is tilted severely after a magnitude 7.4 earthquake struck off Taiwans eastern coast on the Richter scale, in Hualien, Taiwan on April 3, 2024. (Photo by Hualien County Fire Department/Anadolu via Getty Images)

The Uranus Building at Xuanyuan Road is tilted severely after a magnitude 7.4 earthquake struck off Taiwans eastern coast on the Richter scale, in Hualien, Taiwan on April 3, 2024. (Photo by Hualien County Fire Department/Anadolu via Getty Images)

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. Some children covered themselves with textbooks to guard against falling objects as aftershocks continued. 

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

Television images showed neighbors and rescue workers lifting residents, including a toddler, through windows and onto the street. All appeared mobile, in shock but without serious injuries. Doors had been fused shut by the pressure of the tilt.

The national legislature, a converted school built before World War II, and sections of the main airport in Taoyuan, just south of Taipei, also saw minor damage.

Traffic along the east coast was at a virtual standstill after the earthquake, with landslides and falling debris hitting tunnels and highways in the mountainous region. Train service was suspended across the island of 23 million people, as was subway service in the capital, Taipei, where a newly constructed above-ground line partially separated.

The Japan Meteorological Agency said a tsunami wave of about 1 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.

The earthquake was felt in Shanghai and several provinces along China’s southeastern coast, according to Chinese media. China and Taiwan are about 100 miles apart. China issued no tsunami warnings for the Chinese mainland and all such alerts in the region had been lifted by Wednesday afternoon.

Taiwan’s advanced earthquake preparedness 

Stephen Gao, a seismologist and professor at Missouri University of Science and Technology, said Taiwan’s earthquake preparedness is among the most advanced in the world, featuring strict building codes, a world-class seismological network, and widespread public education campaigns on earthquake safety.

The initial panic after the earthquake quickly faded 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.

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

Taiwan earthquake largest since 1999


Satellite view of Taiwan. (Photo by Planet Observer/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

The earthquake is considered to be the largest in Taiwan since a tremor in 1999 inflicted widespread damage. On Sept. 21, 1999, a 7.7 magnitude earthquake caused 2,400 deaths, injuring around 100,000 and destroying thousands of buildings.

Taiwan sits along the Pacific "Ring of Fire," a zone of seismic faults encircling the Pacific Ocean where the majority of the world's earthquakes occur.

"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," Hsien-hsuen Keng, a resident who lives in a fifth-floor apartment in Taipei, told the Associated Press. "I was awakened by the earthquake. I had never felt such intense shaking before."

The Associated Press and Kelly Hayes contributed to this report.