Taiwan Endures Its Fiercest Earthquake Since 1999: What We Know

The deadly earthquake that battered Taiwan Wednesday morning was the most powerful temblor to rock the island in decades, officials said.

Taiwan sits along the Pacific “Ring of Fire,” the string of seismic faults encompassing the Pacific Ocean where most of the world’s earthquakes strike. The island, home to 23 million people, is frequently rattled by temblors and prepares for seismic activity with drills and public alerts.

Authorities expected Wednesday’s quake, however, to be mild and did not transmit alerts, the Associated Press (AP) reported.

The Quake’s Scope and Strength

While Taiwan’s monitoring agency rated the quake at a 7.2 magnitude, the U.S. Geological Survey said it was a 7.4.

The earthquake’s epicenter was about 15 miles south-southeast of the east coast city of Hualien, which is home to roughly 100,000 residents. The temblor had a focal depth of more than 21 miles, according to Taiwan’s Central Weather Administration, triggering multiple aftershocks throughout the day, Taiwanese officials reported.

Wednesday morning’s tectonic event was the most powerful to strike the island in decades, since the “921 quake” of September 21, 1999, when a 7.6-magnitude quake resulted in more than 2,400 deaths, injured more than 11,300, and damaged or destroyed tens of thousands of buildings, Newsweek previously reported.

Taiwan Earthquake Update
A collapsed building is pictured on Wednesday in Hualien after a vicious earthquake pummeled Taiwan. At least nine people were killed and more than 1,000 were reported injured.

Sam Yeh / AFP/Getty

Deaths and Injuries

As of Wednesday night, at least nine people died in the quake, according to Taiwan’s national fire agency. Four were killed by falling rocks while stuck inside Taroko National Park, according to the state Central News Agency. One person died in a residential building that was damaged during the jolts, the news agency reported.

More than 1,000 people were reported injured, according to the fire agency. Rescue crews have continued to comb through Hualien, searching for those who may be trapped under the rubble and using excavators to stabilize damaged buildings.

Roughly 70 workers stranded at two rock quarries were reported to be safe, according to AP, citing Taiwan’s fire agency, which noted that the roads to reach the workers were damaged by landslides and falling rocks. Six workers are going to be airlifted on Thursday, according to the agency, which did not offer information on rescuing the others.

Newsweek reached out via email on Wednesday night to officials with Taiwan’s fire agency for comment and an update.

The Destruction

Hualien Mayor Hsu Chen-wei said 48 residential buildings sustained damage in the city, according to AP. The mayor also said water and electricity were in the process of being restored.

Videos taken in Hualien and shared to social media show buildings leaning at steep angles. Firefighters were dispatched to one of these, a partially collapsed nine-story structure, to rescue people trapped on the third and seventh floors and in the basement, local media reported.

The earthquake and severe aftershocks resulted in at least two dozen landslides and widespread infrastructure damage.

Hualien was last struck by a deadly quake in 2018, when 17 people were killed and a historic hotel was destroyed.