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Death toll soars after Taiwan earthquake

At least nine people died and more than 900 were injured after a 7.4 magnitude earthquake struck eastern Taiwan early Wednesday, destroying buildings and triggering tsunami warnings in the region.

Three of the dead were hikers crushed by a rock in mountainous Hualien County, information released by Taipei’s emergency operations center showed.

The earthquake occurred shortly before 8 a.m. local time, and the United States Geological Survey (USGS) placed the epicenter 18 km south of the city of Hualien, Taiwan, at a depth of 34.8km.

The first earthquake was felt across Taiwan, with AFP journalists in Pingtung County, south of Taipei, reporting strong shaking sensations.

Aftershocks, including another magnitude 6.5 quake near Hualien, were also felt in Taipei.

Sequences and images from Asian territory show varying degrees of destruction.

Some show large, half-collapsed buildings in Hualien, near the epicenter, with severe damage, while another shows a violently shaking bridge.

Local media reported that people remained trapped in buildings, while 934 people were injured. The death toll currently stands at nine.

Authorities also confirmed that 70 people are stranded in two separate rock quarries.

Harrowing images circulating online show numerous large landslides believed to have caused chaos in Xiulin, off Taiwan’s east coast.

“I wanted to run away, but I wasn’t dressed. It was so strong,” Kelvin Hwang, a guest at a hotel in downtown Hualien who was seeking shelter in the elevator lobby on the ninth floor, told AFP.

Authorities said the earthquake was the strongest felt on the island in decades.

“The earthquake is close to the earth and shallow. It is felt everywhere in Taiwan and the offshore islands,” said Wu Chien-fu, director of the seismology center of the Central Meteorological Administration in Taipei.

“It’s the strongest in 25 years since the (1999) earthquake.”

A Chinese teacher in Taipei said her class was disrupted by the frightening rumble.

“I was panicked. I felt like scary things were going to happen again, because I lived through 1999, so I know how scary it can be,” Stacy Liu told Al Jazeera.

“I would take the helmets off, get our guinea pigs ready, and put water and snacks under the table in case something crazy happened.”

A 7.6 magnitude earthquake struck Taiwan in September 1999, killing around 2,400 people, making it the deadliest natural disaster in the island’s history.

Wu warned that authorities do not rule out that “there will be earthquakes with a magnitude of 6.5 to 7 in three days, which will occur relatively close to the earth.”

“The public should pay attention to relevant warnings and messages and prepare for evacuation in the event of an earthquake. »

Netblocks, a global cybersecurity watchdog, noted that swaths of the country had been taken offline.

“Internet outages were recorded in parts of Taiwan after a 7.4 magnitude earthquake,” the company said, adding that it had not observed any problems with the country’s nuclear reactors.

The country’s electricity operator, Taipower, said more than 87,000 people were without power.

Japan, Philippines and China affected

Japan, the Philippines, Taiwan and China were all officially listed as affected by the disaster.

Japanese and Philippine authorities quickly issued tsunami warnings, but the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center has since said the tsunami threat from the Taiwan earthquake “has now passed.”

The Philippine Seismology Agency warned residents in some coastal areas to evacuate to higher ground.

Residents in parts of the Philippines have been warned of “strong tsunami waves” and asked to evacuate coastal areas following the earthquake that hit neighboring Taiwan.

“Residents in coastal areas of the following provinces are strongly advised to immediately evacuate to higher areas or move further inland,” the national seismology institute said in an advisory.

Coastal areas of 23 provinces from north to south of the archipelago, except the capital Manila, “are expected to experience strong tsunami waves”, based on tsunami wave models, he added .

The first tsunami waves were expected this afternoon, but “they may not be the largest, and these waves could last for hours.”

“Boat owners in ports, estuaries or shallow coastal waters of the above-mentioned provinces should secure their boats and move away from the waterfront,” the statement said.

“Vessels already at sea during this period should remain offshore in deep waters until further notice.”

Tsunami warnings for Japan’s southern islands were issued shortly after the quake, but have since been downgraded.

“Clear out!” “, we read Wednesday morning on the Japanese national television channel NHK.

“The tsunami is coming. Please evacuate immediately,” an NHK presenter also said, according to AFP.

“Don’t stop. Don’t go back.

Isolated Japanese islands near Taiwan, including the island of Miyakojima, were initially expected to experience tsunami waves of up to three meters.

Flights were also suspended at Okinawa’s main airport in southern Japan.

Operations at Naha Airport were suspended from 9:25 a.m. local time shortly after the earthquake as a precautionary measure.

A Transport Ministry official stationed at the airport told AFP: “Incoming flights must be diverted.”

Chinese state media reported that the quake was felt as far away as Fujian province.

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