Rescue efforts continue after earthquake hits Taiwan

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Taiwan is currently undergoing rescue operations following a strong earthquake that hit off its east coast on Wednesday, resulting in the deaths of at least four individuals.

The 7.4 magnitude earthquake resulted in numerous buildings collapsing in Hualien, the city nearest to the epicenter.

This strongest tremor experienced by the island in 25 years was felt even in Taiwan’s mountainous interior, where significant landslides occurred.

In the capital Taipei, video footage depicted buildings shaking violently.

“The earthquake is close to land and it’s shallow. It’s felt all over Taiwan and offshore islands… It’s the strongest in 25 years,” said Wu Chien Fu, the director of Taipei’s Seismology Centre.

The National Fire Agency reported three fatalities on a trail near Taroko National Park, which is named after a notable gorge just outside Hualien.

Additionally, over 50 people have sustained injuries, with some individuals trapped in buildings and tunnels in and around the city, according to the agency.

Taiwan’s leading chip manufacturer, TSMC, announced the evacuation of some of its factories in Hsinchu and southern Taiwan to ensure the safety of its employees. However, the company emphasized that its safety systems remain operational. TSMC plays a significant role in semiconductor production for tech giants such as Apple and Nvidia.

Foxconn, a key supplier for Apple, did not provide an immediate response to the BBC’s request for comment.

Earlier, the earthquake prompted tsunami warnings in Taiwan and neighboring countries.

In Taipei, local media footage depicted collapsed residential buildings and evacuations from homes and schools. The earthquake’s impact also resulted in damaged vehicles and disarrayed items inside stores, as shown in clips aired by local broadcaster TVBS.

Reports of power outages and internet disruptions across the island have been documented by the internet monitoring group NetBlocks.

The earthquake occurred on Wednesday at 07:58 local time (23:58 GMT), with a depth of 15.5km, triggering at least nine aftershocks with magnitudes of 4 or higher. According to the US Geological Survey, the epicenter of the earthquake is situated approximately 18km (11 miles) south of Hualien.

Hualien, located on Taiwan’s east coast, is situated within a vast, mountainous area. The cities in this region have relatively low population densities. With major roads and rail lines connecting Hualien to the rest of Taiwan now disrupted, rescue teams are likely to need aerial access to the area.

In September 1999, Taiwan was struck by a 7.6-magnitude earthquake, resulting in the deaths of 2,400 individuals and the destruction of 5,000 buildings.

In neighboring Japan, authorities initially issued warnings of tsunami waves reaching up to 3m along its southwestern coast. However, the Japan Meteorological Agency later downgraded the warning, urging residents to remain cautious of aftershocks with similar intensity for approximately a week.

The Philippines’ seismology agency also issued a tsunami warning shortly after the earthquake, advising residents to evacuate to higher ground, although this warning was later lifted.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center stated in an update approximately two hours after the earthquake that the tsunami threat had subsided.

Chinese state media reported tremors being felt in parts of China’s southeastern Fujian province.