Taiwan earthquake topples buildings, leaving at least 7 dead and hundreds injured – Los Angeles Times
Hundreds of Taiwanese firefighters and military personnel raced Saturday to rescue dozens of people trapped in collapsed buildings after a magnitude 6.4 earthquake struck southern Taiwan before dawn.
At least seven people, including a 10-day-old girl, were reported killed in the temblor, which struck hardest in the city of Tainan, authorities said.
The powerful quake ripped a 10-foot chasm in a golf course, cut off water supplies to 400,000 people and halted high-speed rail service to the southern half of the island just ahead of the Lunar New Year holiday.
As of 1:30 p.m., authorities said the earthquake had left at least seven dead and 422 injured, while 11 buildings were collapsed or dangerously tilted. Local TV showed firefighters using ladders to scramble over the concrete rubble of several apartment buildings, looking for victims. At least one woman trapped in the rubble called firefighters from her cellphone and was trying to direct rescuers to her location, Apple Daily reported.
In another case, firefighters found a 7-year-boy after following the cries of his pet cat, named Meow-meow, who stayed by his side after the quake struck, the Taiwan News said.
The quake cast a pall over the island amid the approach of Lunar New Year, a peak travel period when many people return their hometowns.
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. Rail authorities said power cuts, not damage to tracks, was the reason for the suspension of train service. Water supplies to about 400,000 households were interrupted.
Among the seven killed, six were residents of a collapsed 17-story residential building in Tainan, including the 10-day-old girl and a 6-year-old girl. Another victim, a 56-year-old woman, was killed when a water tower collapsed.
Structural engineers told local media that it appeared the building may not have met earthquake standards, noting that photos taken before the quake show a base too narrow for a structure of such height in an active seismic zone. The Interior Ministry and Tainan’s mayor announced they would launch investigations into the building’s design and construction.
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 to the west across the Taiwan Strait.
Kate Chou, who runs a hostel in Tainan, said she was on her way to the bathroom when the shaking started.
“The ground was not only moving sideways, but up and down as well. It felt like the Sept. 21 earthquake had come back,” she said, referring to Taiwan’s 7.6-magnitude quake on Sept. 21, 1999, that killed about 2,500 people — the deadliest natural disaster in the island’s recent history.
“It was shorter than the Sept. 21 quake,” Chou added, “but for someone who had firsthand experience of the Sept. 21 quake, any trembling of the window or door could still seem ominous.”
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.
Hoerler said he was in the Sacramento area when the magnitude 6.9 Loma Prieta earthquake hit the Bay Area in 1989, and he thought 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.
Prashant Kumar, an engineering student at National Cheng Kung University in Tainan, said the quake left “huge cracks” in the pillars of his dormitory.
“I am afraid of another earthquake like that and I don’t know what will happen to this building,” said Kumar, who is from near Kolkata, India.
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.
Taiwan sits in a collision zone between the Philippine Sea and Eurasian plates, and is seismically active.
Chan is a special correspondent. Makinen and Kaiman reported from Beijing. Rong-Gong Lin in Los Angeles, Nicole Liu in The Times’ Beijing bureau and special correspondent Chuan Xu and contributed to this report.