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At least four dead in 'massive' 7.2 magnitude Taiwan quake, Kiwis affected

Publish Date
Wed, 3 Apr 2024, 1:40PM

At least four dead in 'massive' 7.2 magnitude Taiwan quake, Kiwis affected

Publish Date
Wed, 3 Apr 2024, 1:40PM
  • A 7.2 earthquake has struck off the coast of Taiwan at 7.58am local time (12.58pm in NZ).
  • There are reports of people trapped in collapsed buildings.
  • The tsunami threat largely passed about two hours later.

Taiwan’s strongest earthquake in a quarter century rocked the island during the morning rush today, damaging buildings and creating a tsunami that washed ashore on southern Japanese islands. At least four people have died according to the national fire agency, but the tsunami threat has now largely passed.

A five-storey building in the lightly populated southeastern coastal city of Hualien near the epicentre appeared heavily damaged, collapsing its first floor and leaving the rest leaning at a 45-degree angle. In the capital, tiles fell from older buildings and within some newer office complexes, while debris fell from some building sites. Schools evacuated their students to sports fields, equipping them with yellow safety helmets. Some also covered themselves with textbooks to guard against falling objects as aftershocks continued.

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.

One Kiwi in Taiwan’s capital Taipei told the Herald it was the “biggest and strongest earthquake I’ve ever felt.”

Residents rescue a child from a partially collapsed building in Hualien. Photo / AP
Residents rescue a child from a partially collapsed building in Hualien. Photo / AP

Traffic along the east coast was at a virtual standstill, with landslides and falling debris hitting tunnels and highways in the mountainous region. Those caused damage to vehicles, though it wasn’t clear if anyone was hurt.

Despite the quake striking at the height of the morning rush hour just before 8am, the initial panic faded quickly on the island that is regularly rocked by temblors and prepares for them with drills at schools and notices issued via public media and mobile phone.

Still, the earthquake 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.”

There was still no word on casualties from the epicentre near the city of Hualien, where a deadly quake in 2018 collapsed a historic hotel and other buildings. Taiwan’s worst quake in recent years struck on September 21, 1999, with a magnitude of 7.7, causing 2400 deaths, injuring around 100,000 and destroying thousands of buildings.

The Japan Meteorological Agency said a tsunami wave of 30cm 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.

A magnitude 7.5 earthquake struck off the coast of Taiwan. Photo / AP
A magnitude 7.5 earthquake struck off the coast of Taiwan. Photo / AP

Taiwan’s earthquake monitoring agency gave the magnitude as 7.2 while the US Geological Survey put it at 7.4. It struck about 18km south-southwest of Hualien and was about 35km deep. Multiple aftershocks followed, and the USGS said one of the subsequent quakes was 6.5 magnitude and 11.8 km deep. Shallower quakes tend to cause more surface damage.

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade said: “There has been a 7.4 magnitude earthquake centred off the coast of Taiwan, which has also triggered tsunami warnings in both Taiwan and Japan. Currently, there are 137 [New Zealanders] registered as being in Taiwan, and 428 in Japan.

“If New Zealanders are in areas affected in Taiwan and Japan, they should follow the advice of local authorities.”

Kiwi woman Delphine Herbert told the Herald she was 16 floors high and had only recently arrived in Taipei when the earthquake struck.

“When it happened, I was just waking up because we only flew in last night.”

Herbert, 27, said she is familiar with the feeling of an earthquake because she grew up in Christchurch.

“It was probably the biggest and strongest earthquake I’ve ever felt.”

Herbert said she and and her partner evacuated their hotel, running down 16 flights of stairs of the high rise.

Herbert said there have been two strong aftershocks already since the original earthquake struck.

“It’s just crazy, it’s awful. It was one of those earthquakes where it was slow a build but it was long and strong.

“We’re okay thankfully.”

A Kiwi drag queen living in Taiwan, Taipei Popcorn (Nick van Halderen), reacted to the earthquake via social media.

“F*** that was massive, I really hope no one was hurt,” the performer from Dunedin said.

An Air New Zealand spokesperson said the airline has no aircraft on the ground in Taipei at the moment.

”All of our crew, including those staying in hotels, have been reported safe.”

The earthquake was felt in Shanghai and several provinces along China’s southeastern coast, according to Chinese media. China and Taiwan are about 160km 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 that 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 about three hours after the quake.

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

Japan’s chief cabinet secretary Yoshimasa Hayashi said there has been no report of injury or damage in Japan. He urged the residents in the Okinawa region to stay on high ground until all tsunami advisories are lifted. He cautioned the people against disinformation and urged to stay calm and assist others.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said there was no tsunami threat to Hawaii or the US 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.

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.

New Zealanders are encouraged to register on SafeTravel. New Zealanders requiring consular assistance should call +64 99 20 20 20.

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