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Strongest earthquake in 25 years rocks Taiwan, killing 9 and injuring over 1,000



HUALIEN, Taiwan (AP) — The strongest earthquake in a quarter-century rocked Taiwan during the morning rush hour Wednesday, killing nine people, stranding dozens of workers at quarries and sending some residents scrambling out the windows of damaged buildings.

The quake, which also injured more than 1,000, was centered off the coast of rural, mountainous Hualien County, where some buildings leaned at severe angles, their ground floors crushed. Just over 150 kilometers (93 miles) away in the capital of Taipei, tiles fell from older buildings, and schools evacuated students to sports fields as aftershocks rattled the island nation.

Rescuers fanned out in Hualien, looking for people who may be trapped and using excavators to stabilize damaged buildings. The numbers of people missing, trapped or stranded fluctuated as authorities learned of more in trouble and worked to locate or free them.

Some 70 workers who were stranded at two rock quarries were safe, according to Taiwan’s national fire agency, but the roads to reach them were damaged by falling rocks. Six workers were going to be airlifted on Thursday.

Taiwan is regularly jolted by quakes and its population is among the best prepared for them. But authorities expected a relatively mild earthquake and did not send out alerts. The eventual quake was strong enough to scare even people who are used to such shaking.

At least nine people died in the earthquake, which struck just before 8 a.m., according to the fire agency. The local United Daily News reported that three were hikers killed in rockslides in Taroko National Park, which is in Hualien, and that a van driver died in the same area when boulders hit the vehicle.

The quake and aftershocks caused 24 landslides and damaged roads, bridges and tunnels. 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.

Taiwan’s earthquake monitoring agency said the quake was 7.2 magnitude while the U.S. Geological Survey put it at 7.4. It struck about 18 kilometers (11 miles) off of Hualien, on Taiwan’s east coast, and was about 35 kilometers (21 miles) deep. Multiple aftershocks followed.

The initial panic after the earthquake quickly faded on the island of 23 million people, which prepares for such events with drills at schools and notices issued via public media and mobile phone. Stephen Gao, a seismologist and professor at Missouri University of Science and Technology, said Taiwan’s readiness is among the most advanced in the world and includes strict building codes and a world-class seismological network.

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

The earthquake was felt in Shanghai and several provinces along China’s southeastern coast, according to Chinese media. China and Taiwan are about 160 kilometers (100 miles) apart.

The Japan Meteorological Agency said a tsunami of 30 centimeters (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. All tsunami alerts in the region had been lifted by Wednesday afternoon.

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.

Hualien was last struck by a deadly quake in 2018 that killed 17 people and brought down a historic hotel. Taiwan’s worst quake in recent years struck on Sept. 21, 1999, with a magnitude of 7.7, causing 2,400 deaths, injuring around 100,000 and destroying thousands of buildings.

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