Strong earthquake hits east Taiwan, rattles buildings in capital

A strong 6.1 magnitude earthquake struck eastern Taiwan on Thursday afternoon, according to the island’s Central Weather Bureau, causing scattered light damage in the capital and along the east coast.

The bureau said the quake happened at 1:01 p.m. local time, with its epicentre just over 10 kilometres northwest of the eastern coastal city of Hualien. The depth was 10 kilometres, according to the United States Geological Survey, while Taiwan’s Central Weather Bureau put the depth at almost 19 kilometres, a distance that would lessen the likelihood of damage.

Water pipes at Hualien’s train station burst and rail traffic was briefly suspended. Schools along the east coast were evacuated, with students holding their backpacks over their heads for protection. TV news showed at least one landslide in a lightly populated area.

Two hikers in the famed Taroko National Park, including one from Malaysia, were injured by falling rocks, the Hualien government reported.

An injured Malaysian tourist, in red, is assisted by rescue workers at the Taroko National Park in Hualien in eastern Taiwan after the earthquake. (Taroko National Park via The Associated Press)

Traffic through the park, and its landmark gorge, has been halted while drones and helicopters check for damage, Premier Su Tseng-chang said.

“If it rains, [retaining walls] could fall down, so we urge people not to get close,” he said.

Su said schools and worksites as well as water, power and transit lines had also been checked for damage. While no major problems were found, cracked road surfaces on the east coast could become a problem if rain falls soon, he said.

Leaning building in capital

In Taipei, about 115 kilometres from the epicentre, people felt buildings shake, and one multi-storey building was leaning against its neighbor after its foundation shifted. The city’s subway system suspended service.

At the leaning building in downtown Taipei, area resident Ayumi Lin said the earthquake’s force was considerable. “It was really scary,” Lin said. “The quake shook strongly twice.”

The owner of a travel agency in the adjacent building, who gave only his surname, Huang, said all his employees evacuated safely from their 7th-floor office. “No one was hurt,” Huang said.

People in Taipei take photos of buildings damaged by the earthquake. (Chiang Ying-ying/The Associated Press)

People in Chinese cities close to the Taiwan Strait dividing Taiwan from mainland China reported on social media that they also felt the quake.

Taiwan is on the string of seismic faults around the Pacific Ocean known as the “Rim of Fire” and is frequently rocked by tremors, including a 1999 quake that killed more than 2,300 people.

An earthquake in February 2018 in Hualien killed 17 people when four buildings partially collapsed. That quake hit two years to the day after an apartment building in the southwestern city of Tainan collapsed in an earthquake, killing 115 people.

The government has set up an elaborate system of alerts, inspections and recovery measures to cope with the frequent quakes. Hao Yilin, an exchange student from China studying at Chinese Culture University in Taipei, said he received a notice on his cellphone seconds before the ground began to shake.

“I wasn’t scared because an earthquake like this is very common and the shaking was tolerable. So I didn’t think of going outdoors and continued to eat lunch while watching a TV series,” Hao said.