A magnitude 6.4 earthquake struck southern Taiwan before dawn Saturday, toppling several buildings and killing at least five people in Tainan, one of the island’s oldest cities, according to local news reports.
At least one of the buildings that fell was residential and was 17 stories tall. Firefighters and other rescue workers scrambled through the wreckage, searching for survivors.
More than 220 people were pulled from the rubble and 115 hospitalized, fire department officials said. The dead included a 10-day-old girl and a 40-year-old man. As of midday, dozens of people remained trapped, the island’s Central News Agency reported.
The temblor struck a day before Lunar New Year’s eve, a peak travel period when many people return to their hometowns. All high-speed rail service to the south of the island was canceled Saturday. Officials said no structural damage to tracks was found, but power outages north of Tainan forced the cancellation of service.
Outgoing President Ma Ying-jeou flew to Tainan, pledging “all-out efforts” to rescue those who remained trapped and assist others affected by the disaster. Ma said the military had prepared 1,200 beds in four shelters in the area to accommodate the displaced.
The earthquake knocked out 69 power lines, affecting more than 121,000 households in the city, according to the Taiwan Power Co. Water service was interrupted to about 400,000 households.
The quake, which hit at 3:57 a.m. Saturday, was particularly bad because it was very shallow — about six miles underground — and the epicenter was on the island, not offshore, said U.S. Geological Survey geophysicist Paul Caruso. People felt the earthquake as far away as mainland China, 100 miles west across the Taiwan Strait.
Derek Hoerler, an elementary school teacher originally from California, said he woke up and felt violent shaking.
“It was not a rolling gentle earthquake, but a violent jerking motion. The walls were shaking and you could hear the building and windows moving,” said Hoerler, who lives in New Taipei City and was visiting family in Kaohsiung when the quake hit. “It lasted at least a minute with swaying afterwards. I felt complete terror.
“Biggest earthquake I’ve felt, and I’m from California,” said Hoerler, 37, who is originally from Santa Clara. “Now I just feel worried for the people in Tainan, where buildings collapsed.”
Hoerler said he was in the Sacramento area when the magnitude 6.9 Loma Prieta earthquake hit the Bay Area in 1989 and thought that this temblor in Taiwan felt different.
“That was a rolling quake in ’89,” he said. “I remember seeing the pavement actually roll like a wave. The one in Taiwan felt like [the earth moved] up and down, side to side — violent jerking, like someone was shaking you hard.”
Lee Cheng-kuo, who lives in Kaohsiung, said the violent shaking woke him, his wife and two sons. “Our stereo fell and hit our table really hard. Bottles and other stuff also fell,” he said. They immediately ran out of their house.
“Taiwan is in an earthquake zone, so we are all somehow experienced and alert to things of this kind,” he said. “Apartments are more damaged than houses. One-story houses like ours are better off,” he added, though water service was knocked out, making pre-holiday cleaning chores difficult.
At least eight buildings were toppled in Tainan, the Taiwan News reported. Dramatic images shared on social media showed a large residential structure canted, as if about to collapse, and rescue workers in yellow helmets attempting to scale mounds of rubble.
More than 200 firefighters, 1,350 volunteers, 70 trucks and 27 ambulances were involved in the rescue operation.
The epicenter of the earthquake was underneath the central mountain range of Taiwan — about 27 miles southeast of Tainan and 24 miles northeast of Kaohsiung, the island’s main port city.
The strongest earthquake to hit Taiwan in recent years was in 1999, when a magnitude 7.6 temblor hit the island’s central region. About 2,500 people died in that quake.
Taiwan sits in a collision zone between the Philippine Sea and Eurasian plates, and is seismically active.
Makinen and Kaiman reported from Beijing and Lin from Los Angeles. Special correspondent Chuan Xu and Nicole Liu in The Times’ Beijing bureau contributed to this report.
This entry passed through the Full-Text RSS service – if this is your content and you’re reading it on someone else’s site, please read the FAQ at fivefilters.org/content-only/faq.php#publishers.
Powered by WPeMatico