Taiwan’s strongest earthquake in 25 years leaves at least nine dead and almost 1,000 injured

Magnitude 7.2 quake triggers landslides and leaves buildings damaged or tilting dangerously

Taiwan’s strongest earthquake in 25 years has left at least nine people dead and more than 900 injured, triggering landslides and leaving buildings damaged or tilting precariously. Fifty workers were missing on Wednesday night after they boarded minibuses heading to a hotel in a national park and 80 people were trapped in a mining area.

The 7.2 magnitude quake, which hit at 8am on Wednesday morning, caused most damage in the sparsely populated, mountainous county of Hualien in the east of the island, which was close to the epicentre. But aftershocks were felt in the capital Taipei, and Japan issued a tsunami warning.

A number of people were killed by falling rocks in Hualien county and dozens of people were trapped for hours in two road tunnels. More than 100 buildings were damaged and, with power cuts throughout the south and east of the island, more than 90,000 households were still without electricity on Wednesday night.

Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC), the world’s biggest producer of advanced microchips, partially shut down its operations after Wednesday’s earthquake. Three other semiconductor factories also temporarily halted parts of their operations.


“To ensure the safety of personnel, some fabs [semiconductor fabrication plants] were evacuated according to company procedure. We are currently confirming the details of the impact,” TCMP said.

The earthquake was the strongest to hit Taiwan since 1999 when a 7.6 magnitude quake left 2,400 people dead and 50,000 buildings damaged. Taiwan lies along a line of seismic faults in the Pacific Ocean called the Ring of Fire, where most of the world’s earthquakes occur.

Taiwan has seen more than 100 quakes registering above 5.5 since 1980 and the island’s earthquake preparedness is one of the most advanced in the world. Building codes are designed to make houses more resilient to tremors and the government runs regular public awareness campaigns on earthquake safety.

The self-governing island off the southern coast of China is the focus of geopolitical tension between Washington and Beijing, which wants Taiwan to reunify with the mainland. The United States, in common with almost every country in the world, is committed to a One China policy and does not have formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan.

The US and its allies say they are committed to maintaining the status quo with Taiwan continuing to govern itself autonomously as a liberal democracy. Beijing says it wants to pursue reunification with the island by peaceful means but will not rule out the use of force if a government in Taiwan formally declares independence.

Shortly after the earthquake hit on Wednesday, Beijing’s Taiwan Affairs Office of the State Council offered disaster assistance to Taiwan but the Mainland Affairs Council in Taipei said there was no need for such help.

“We noticed that the mainland’s Taiwan Affairs Office had expressed concern about the earthquake in waters off Hualien this morning. We greatly appreciate its concern, but there is no need for the mainland side to assist us in disaster relief,” it said in a statement.

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton is China Correspondent of The Irish Times