Taiwan 7.5 earthquake: At least four dead, tsunami warnings lifted

Taiwan has been rocked by its biggest earthquake in a quarter-century, with the above-7 magnitude tremor killing at least four people, injuring hundreds, and triggering tsunami warnings that passed without damage or causalities.

The earthquake on Wednesday shook buildings off their foundations and caused landslides in the eastern part of the island. Dozens of buildings in the eastern city of Hualien collapsed.

Taiwanese authorities said four people were killed in Hualien County, including three hikers struck by falling rocks, and more than 700 others were injured.

Rescue teams were working to free about 20 people believed to be trapped in rubble, authorities said.

In the capital, Taipei, vehicles pulled over on the side of the road and the city’s subway service was briefly suspended, while tiles were thrown from older buildings and furniture was knocked over with the force of the earthquake.

A series of aftershocks were felt in the capital about 15 minutes later and continued over the next hour. Taiwanese authorities said aftershocks could continue for the next three to four days due to the earthquake’s intensity.

Stacy Liu, a Chinese teacher in Taipei who was teaching a class online when the earthquake struck, said it revived childhood memories of Taiwan’s worst quake in recent memory in 1999 when more than 2,400 people were killed.

“I was freaking out. I felt like scary things were going to happen all over again because I’ve been through 1999, so I know how scary it can be,” Liu told Al Jazeera.

“I was taking out [construction] helmets, prepping our guinea pigs, and putting some water and snacks under the table in case something crazy happened.”

Kimmie Phan-Stattmen, a user experience (UX) designer in Taipei, said she was caught off-guard by the earthquake.

“I thought it was just going to be a small earthquake at first, but then it definitely became a lot more violent than I’m used to. We have a sliding glass door which is the entry to our balcony and apartment, and it swung open, which I did not know was possible,” Phan-Stattmen told Al Jazeera.

“Then [our cat] Beef ran around and ran to the bedroom, and all the books started to fall.”

Wu Chien-fu, the director of Taipei’s Seismological Center, said the earthquake, estimated at between 7.2 and 7.7 in magnitude, was the strongest to hit the island since the 1999 quake.

“The earthquake is close to land and it’s shallow. It’s felt all over Taiwan and offshore islands,” Wu told reporters.

Taiwan’s earthquake alert system, which typically provides warnings minutes in advance, did not activate before the quake.

After tsunami warnings in Taiwan, Japan and the Philippines, the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Hawaii, the United States, said late on Tuesday that the threat had “passed”.

The Japan Meteorological Agency (JAM) lifted all tsunami advisories after earlier urging residents in Okinawa Island, Miyakojima Island and Yaeyama Island to evacuate amid warnings of waves of up to 3 metres (9.8 feet) high.

The agency said a wave measuring about 0.3 metres (1 foot) high was detected on the coast of Yonaguni Island about 15 minutes after the earthquake.

Okinawa’s main airport suspended flights following the alert.

The Philippine seismology agency cancelled its alert after warning that coastal areas would experience “high tsunami waves”.

Taiwan lies on a tectonic belt, known as the Pacific “Ring of Fire”, where about 90 percent of all earthquakes occur.

The self-governed island has strict building regulations and disaster awareness programmes to reduce casualties from earthquakes.

(Al Jazeera)