Taiwan says 1,000 injured in earthquake, rescue efforts focus on Hualien

The quake struck on Wednesday morning and was the strongest to hit the island in 25 years.

A building in Hualien city teetering precariously on Thursday morning
Debris surrounds a collapsed building in Hualien City [Chiang Ying-ying/AP Photo]

The search for survivors of Taiwan’s strongest earthquake in 25 years continues.

At least 10 people have been confirmed dead and 1,038 others injured as of Thursday after the magnitude 7.2 tremor hit off the island’s east on Wednesday morning. At least 52 are missing and uncontactable.

Relief efforts are focussed on Hualien, along the rugged and scenic east coast, where dozens of buildings were left teetering after their lower floors collapsed, bridges and tunnels were destroyed and roads were damaged by rocks and landslides.

Rocks cover a mountain in Hualien after crashing down the hillside. a man is looking at the scene.
Hualien is rugged and the earthquake dislodged rocks and boulders that crashed onto roads [Hualien Fire Department via AFP]

Three people among a group taking a morning hike in the Taroko National Park were killed after the earthquake triggered a rock slide.

The National Fire Agency said rescuers were using drones and helicopters to search for people thought to be trapped in the park, which is known for its scenic beauty. About 38 workers on their way to a hotel in the park remain missing after some of their colleagues were found safe.

Strongest quake since 1999

Located on a tectonic boundary between the Eurasian Plate and the Philippine Sea Plate, Taiwan is used to earthquakes and well-prepared for them, but officials at the earthquake monitoring agency were expecting a far weaker tremor and did not send out their usual alert.

The quake, which Japan’s meteorological agency initially put at 7.5 magnitude and the US Geological Survey at 7.4, struck about 18km (11 miles) south of Hualien. It caused widespread alarm in Taipei more than 100km away, where buildings shook violently, and triggered tsunami warnings from southern Japan to the Philippines.

A search and rescue team loading an air force plane to go to Hualien
Taiwan’s military is helping in the search and rescue operations [Taiwan Air Force Command via AP Photo]

Authorities have recorded multiple aftershocks.

For some, the quake reawakened memories of Taiwan’s last major quake in 1999, when a magnitude 7.6 quake killed some 2,400 people and injured 10,000 more.

Stacy Liu, a former engineer-turned-Chinese teacher, was in an online lesson when the earthquake struck.

“I was freaking out. I felt like scary things were going to happen all over again, because I’ve been through 1999, so I know how scary it can be,” Liu told Al Jazeera. “I was taking out [construction] helmets, prepping our guinea pigs, and putting some water and snacks under the table in case something crazy happened.”

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies