9 People Dead, 50 Missing, and 900 Injured

2024-04-04 10:00:48

Yesterday, I reported that a 7.7 magnitude earthquake rocked the entire island of Taiwan, collapsing buildings in a southern city and generating small tsunami waves observed as far as Japan.

The current casualty reports indicate the quake killed nine people on Wednesday and injured more than 900, while 50 workers traveling in minibusses to a hotel in a national park were missing. Emergency crews have been busy rescuing people and assessing damage.

Some buildings tilted at precarious angles in the mountainous, sparsely populated county of Hualien, near the epicentre of the 7.2 magnitude quake, which struck just offshore at about 8 a. m. (0000 GMT) and triggered massive landslides.

As darkness fell, some people were spending the night in tents and other shelters. Meanwhile scores of emergency workers were trying to shore up damaged buildings and demolish those deemed impossible to save.

“The Uranus building behind us is a very badly damaged place. It is a building with one basement level and nine floors above ground. The first and second floors are now underground,” Deputy Acting Chief of Hualien Fire Department Lee Lung-Sheng said.

Hualien city mayor Hsu Chen-Wei said all residents and businesses in buildings that were in a dangerous state had been evacuated. Demolition work was beginning on four buildings, the mayor said.

The reports show that the earthquake damaged several buildings in Hualien (near the quake’s epicenter). However, it caused only minor losses in the capital, Taipei, despite being strongly felt there. It is important to note that Taiwan’s 1999 earthquake claimed the lives of over 2400 people.

It turns out that robust building codes were the key to minimizing death and destruction.

The earthquake hit in the middle of the morning rush hour yet only slightly derailed the regular commute. Just minutes later, parents were again walking their children to school and workers driving to offices.

“Taiwan’s earthquake preparedness is among the most advanced in the world,” said Stephen Gao, a seismologist and professor at Missouri University of Science and Technology. “The island has implemented strict building codes, a world-class seismological network, and widespread public education campaigns on earthquake safety.”

The government continually revises the level of quake resistance required of new and existing buildings — which may increase construction costs — and offers subsidies to residents willing to check their buildings’ quake resistance.

Taiwan also is pushing quake drills at schools and workplaces while public media and cellphones regularly carry notices about earthquakes and safety.

“These measures have significantly enhanced Taiwan’s resilience to earthquakes, helping to mitigate the potential for catastrophic damage and loss of life,” Gao said.

A review of the data shows that the quake occurred along a fault line that ran through the city of Hualien.

The fault in the Taiwan quake is a thrust fault, meaning one side of the fault moves up and over the other. In the ocean, the water is violently displaced, which can result in a tsunami.

The devastating magnitude 6.7 San Fernando/Sylmar earthquake in 1971 and the deadly magnitude-6.7 Northridge quake in 1994 were on thrust faults.

“It looks like the fault actually ran right through the city,” Jones said. “The only collapsing buildings I’ve seen are in Hualien. Some of them might be actually in a place where the ground underneath the building, one side is now up 10 feet compared to the other side. No building stands up through that.”

We have often discussed the critical importance of Taiwan to the global semiconductor chip supply. Fortunately, its critical industry only experienced minor production delays after the seismic event.

Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing—which makes chips for customers such as Apple and occupies a critical place in the global electronics supply chain—has prepared for years for a quake, drawing on lessons from a 2011 disaster in Japan among others.

TSMC briefly evacuated some of its locations Wednesday and suspended work at some plants after an estimated 7.4-magnitude quake struck eastern Taiwan. It said initial inspections found safety systems were operating normally and no one was hurt.

…TSMC says it added dampers to buildings to absorb earthquakes’ energy and has been conducting regular drills aimed at reducing property losses and getting operations back up more quickly.

The company also says its earthquake insurance is sufficient “to distribute business losses under the worst possible conditions.” A spokeswoman said TSMC’s buildings are designed to withstand earthquakes whose magnitude is on a par with Wednesday’s quake.

Ultimately, it is being estimated that the total production delay was 6-10 hours.

In conclusion: Given just how powerful this earthquake was, it is clear that Taiwan’s earthquake preparedness was effective.


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