Taiwan: 70 people trapped in quarries after strongest earthquake in nearly 25 years hits

Buildings in Hualien appeared heavily damaged while people evacuated to higher ground. ITV News Asia Correspondent Debi Edward reports

Dozens of people are trapped in rock quarries after the strongest earthquake to hit Taiwan in a quarter of a century caused devastation on Wednesday morning.

The deadly quake, which killed nine people and is reported to have injured more than 1,000, struck just before 8am local time.

Rescuers fanned out in Hualien, looking for people who may be trapped and using excavators to stabilise damaged buildings.

The numbers of people missing, trapped or stranded has been fluctuating frequently as rescuers work to bring people to safety.

Some 70 workers, who were stranded at two rock quarries, are reportedly safe, according to the fire agency.

The moment a 7.3 magnitude earthquake hits Taiwan

But the roads to reach them had been damaged by falling rocks. Six workers are due to be airlifted out on Thursday.

Three hikers died in rockslides in Taroko National Park near the offshore epicentre, local media outlet United Daily News reported.

The agency said authorities have lost contact with 50 people in minibuses after the quake downed phone networks.

A five-storey building in Hualien appeared heavily damaged, collapsing its first floor and leaving the rest leaning at a 45-degree angle.

The earthquake also triggered a tsunami warning that was later lifted.

In the capital Taipei, tiles fell from older buildings and in some newer office complexes, while debris fell from some building sites.

Schools evacuated their students to sports fields, and made them wear yellow safety helmets.

Some also covered themselves with textbooks to guard against falling objects as aftershocks continued.

Train services were suspended across the island of 23 million people, as was the metro service in Taipei, where a newly constructed above-ground line partially separated.

Members of a search and rescue team prepare to deploy on a Taiwan Air Force C-130. Credit: AP

The national legislature, a converted school built before World War Two, also had damaged walls and ceilings.

Traffic along the east coast was at a virtual standstill, with landslides and falling debris hitting tunnels and motorway in the mountainous region. Vehicles were damaged as a result, but it wasn't clear if anyone was hurt.

Despite the quake striking at the height of the morning rush hour, the initial panic faded quickly on the island, which is regularly rocked by tremors and prepares for them with drills at schools and notices issued via public media and mobile phone.

Authorities said they had only expected a relatively mild quake of magnitude 4 and accordingly did not send out alerts.

A leaning building is cordoned off in the aftermath of an earthquake in Hualien. Credit: AP

“Earthquakes are a common occurrence, and I’ve grown accustomed to them. But today was the first time I was scared to tears by an earthquake,” Taipei resident Hsien-hsuen Keng said.

”I was awakened by the earthquake. I had never felt such intense shaking before.”

She said her fifth-floor apartment shook so hard that “apart from earthquake drills in elementary school, this was the first time I had experienced such a situation”.

The quake and aftershocks also caused 24 landslides and damage to roads, bridges and tunnels.

Taiwan's strongest earthquake in a quarter of a century hit the island during the morning rush hour. Credit: AP

The Japan Meteorological Agency said a tsunami wave of 30 centimetres was detected on the coast of Yonaguni island about 15 minutes after the quake struck. Smaller waves were measured in Ishigaki and Miyako islands.

Japan sent military aircraft to gather information about the impact around the Okinawa region.

Taiwan’s earthquake monitoring agency gave the magnitude as 7.2 while the US Geological Survey put it at 7.4.

It struck around 18 kilometres south-southwest of Hualien and was about 35 kilometres deep.

Multiple aftershocks followed, and the USGS said one of the subsequent quakes was 6.5 magnitude and 11.8 kilometres deep. Shallower quakes tend to cause more surface damage.

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The earthquake was felt in Shanghai and in several provinces along China’s southeastern coast, according to Chinese media.

China and Taiwan are about 160 kilometres apart. China didn't issue tsunami warnings for the Chinese mainland.

Residents of China's Fujian province reported violent shaking, according to Jimu News, an online outlet. One man told Jimu that the shaking awakened him and lasted about a minute.

In the Philippines, residents along the northern coast were told to evacuate to higher ground, but no major tsunami was reported.

Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshimasa Hayashi said there has been no report of injury or damage in Japan.

He urged the residents in the Okinawa region to stay on high ground until all tsunami advisories are lifted.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said there was no tsunami threat to Hawaii or the U.S. Pacific territory of Guam.

About three hours after the earthquake, it said the threat had largely passed for all areas with waves being reported only in Taiwan and southern Japan.

Taiwan lies along the Pacific “Ring of Fire,” the line of seismic faults encircling the Pacific Ocean where most of the world's earthquakes occur.

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