Death toll rises to seven and over 700 injured as Taiwan hit by strongest earthquake in 25 years

3 April 2024, 09:25

Taiwan has been hit by a 7.4 magnitude earthquake.
Taiwan has been hit by a 7.4 magnitude earthquake. Picture: Alamy/X
Jasmine Moody

By Jasmine Moody

Taiwan has been hit by its strongest earthquake since 1999, killing at least seven people and injuring over 700 others - as the country is set to experience more, smaller aftershock quakes in the next few days.

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The National Fire Agency originally said four people died in Hualien County, but three more have also perished according to the Taiwanese government.

Three of the victims were struck by falling rocks as they hiked along the popular Dekalun Trial in the Taroko National Park just north of Hualien City.

The fourth victim was a truck driver, whose vehicle was hit by a bolder on Suhuah Highway, which connects Hualien and Luodong about 118 kilometres (73 miles) further up the coast.

Another died in a private car from falling debris at the Huide tunnel.

One other person died at a quarry for the country's national cement company and the seventh was a constriction worker who was killed on a nearby highway.

In this photo released by the National Fire Agency, members of a search and rescue team prepare to enter a leaning building in the aftermath of an earthquake in Hualien.
In this photo released by the National Fire Agency, members of a search and rescue team prepare to enter a leaning building in the aftermath of an earthquake in Hualien. Picture: Alamy

711 people have been injured and 77 are said to be trapped.

Hualien was the epicentre of the quake that struck around 8:00 (00:00GMT) on Wednesday.

The US Geological Survey put the earthquake at magnitude 7.4 on the Richter scale.

Now, Taiwan's Central Emergency Operation Centre has confirmed there have been 101 aftershocks (smaller earthquakes) recorded as of 15:00 (08:00 BST)

These are expected to continue over the next three or four days with magnitudes ranging from 6.5 to 7, said Wu Chien-fu, director of the Taiwanese Central Weather Administration’s Seismology Center, at a news conference.

The tremor also caused a small tsunami which hit the southern Japanese prefecture of Okinawa. No one was reported injured there.

Japan and the Philippines had issued tsunami warnings, with Japan suspending flights at Naha airport - but these have since been lifted.

However, it will take some more time for airlines to resume operations.

Fukuoka Airport is crowded with passengers following a tsunami warning in Fukuoka Prefecture.
Fukuoka Airport is crowded with passengers following a tsunami warning in Fukuoka Prefecture. Picture: Alamy

The quake was also felt in China, Fuzhou, Xiamen, Quanzhou and Ningde in China's Fujian province, according to Chinese state media.

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Japan and China have offered assistance to Taiwan.

Coming onto X/Twitter, Taiwan's foreign office posted a statement on X to express their gratitude for offers of aid from "allies and friends" like Japan and Paraguay.

The account wrote: "We appreciate the worldwide good wishes and prayers issued in the wake of the 7.2 earthquake and ongoing aftershocks," Taiwan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs wrote on X.

"Support from allies & friends in moments of adversity touches our hearts & strengthens our resolve—#Taiwan stands strong as an #IslandOfResilience."

Taiwan President Tsai has also posted her gratitude on X since the quake struck, thanking Japan.

Writing in Japanese, she posted: "I would like to express my gratitude to Prime Minister Kishida for his words of sympathy. It has brought warmth to the hearts of those of us in Taiwan," she said.

"I myself have seen Japanese people posting messages of support for Taiwan on social media, and once again felt the friendship between Taiwan and Japan."

Prior, Taiwan's agency, which engages with China's Mainland Affairs Council, thanked China for its concern but said there would be no request for assistance from them.

Images and videos of the quake and its impact have been shared online, with one clip showing Metro passengers remaining composed as they're shaken in the carriage.

Another shows a rooftop pool spilling off a high-rise building as it is shaken by the quake.

Photos taken on the east coast of Taiwan, close to the epicentre of the tremor, show a large glass-paned building on the edge of collapse, with its foundations uprooted from the ground as it teeters on its side.

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A building on the edge of collapse.
A building on the edge of collapse. Picture: X

Speaking to the BBC, an office worker described the damage the quake casued.

"I immediately hid under my desk, then tried to walk outside. But it was so shaky that I could barely walk," said Chiu-yueh Hsu, 50.

"I was really scared, I felt my legs were not in my control anymore and could not walk out. Thanks to my colleagues, they dragged me so we could get out."

She described a cloud of dust and as she and her colleagues tried to escape from the building they realised another building in front of them had partially collapsed.

"The ground floor was gone. "I could see people on higher floors in that building were trying to reach the windows, I don’t know if they have been rescued yet."

Building teetering at a 45 degree angle.
Building teetering at a 45 degree angle. Picture: Alamy

In the capital Taipei, tiles fell from older buildings and within some newer office complexes.

Rescue work is underway to reach people trapped in Hualien and other areas in Taiwan, as the National Fire Agency reported residents being trapped in tunnels.

At least 12 people were rescued from the Uranus Building in Hualien, as well as two people who were rescued from a trapped elevator in Zhongshan District and seven from the scene of a collapsed building in Xindian District in New Taipei City.

It is the strongest earthquake to hit the area in 25 years, after a deadly 7.7-magnitude quake hit in 1999, killing around 2,400 people.

More than 87,000 homes have been left without power in the aftermath of the quake, according to Taiwan electricity operator Taipower.

The first wave of a tsunami hit Japan’s southern islands with waves of up to three metres expected to reach larger areas of the southwestern coast. It was unclear if it caused any damage.

A map from the JMA showed the epicentre of the quake with an x.
A map from the JMA showed the epicentre of the quake with an x. Picture: JMA

Other photos show that bridges and mountains have been swept away by landslides, with footage showing them coming down mountainsides into the ocean and valleys.

Train services across the island, populated by some 23 million people, were suspended amid the quakes.

Multiple aftershocks were felt in Taipei in the hour after the initial quake. The US Geological Society said one of the subsequent quakes was seven miles deep and had a magnitude of 6.5.

The Japan Meteorological Agency’s (JMA) disaster preparation account posted on X: “As of 09:01 on the 3rd, a tsunami warning has been issued. Tsunamis strike repeatedly. Do not leave your safe area until the warning has been lifted.”

Taipei resident Hsien-hsuen Keng said: "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. I was awakened by the earthquake. I had never felt such intense shaking before."

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.