Taiwan News, Staff Writer
2010-03-05 12:00 AM
No deaths were reported, though collapsing brick walls, falling roof tiles, trees and ceiling elements injured at least 12 people, mostly in the area already hit by Typhoon Morakot last August.
The earthquake, the worst one to hit the Kaohsiung area in more than a century, struck at 8:18 a.m. about 17km southeast of the mountain township of Chiahsien at a depth of only 5km and rocked buildings all over the island. The epicenter was 43km northeast of Pingtung City and 25km northwest of Taitung City.
The intensity of the shock varied from six in the counties of Chiayi and Tainan to two in Taipei City and one in Keelung. Several aftershocks were felt throughout the day, with the most serious one, at 4:16 p.m., registering a magnitude of 5.7. The tremor also swayed buildings in the Taipei area.
Rail traffic was the most immediate victim, with high speed rail service suspended for the rest of the day between Taichung and Kaohsiung while inspectors searched for damage.
About 2,400 people left six stalled trains by walking about one kilometer along the tracks on bridges, said Ou Chin-der, chairman of the Taiwan High Speed Rail Corporation. A total of 874 passengers had to leave two high-speed trains stuck in Yunlin County, reports said. Five of the passengers were taken to hospital after they felt uncomfortable in the heat as the air conditioning broke down. Travelers complained about being left on board the immobilized train for two hours.
One train braked hard near Hsinshih in Tainan County, causing panic among the passengers and forcing one side of the train 50 centimeters off the rails, reports said.
High-speed rail service would resume at 6:30 a.m. today, the company said.
The Mass Rapid Transit system in Kaohsiung stopped operating for two and a half hours, while in Taipei, MRT trains resumed normal service after 15 minutes. There were also reports of tracks on railway lines in several parts of Taiwan being displaced by the quake, making travel impossible. The line between Chiayi and Shanhua was closed to traffic, reports said.
Mandarin Airlines announced during the afternoon that it would add four flights between Taipei and Kaohsiung to ease traffic congestion.
A hangar at a textile factory in Shanshang, Tainan County, went up in flames with one foreign worker taken to hospital with injuries. Damage was estimated at NT$100 million. A broken water main caused flooding outside National Cheng Kung University in Tainan City.
Electronics factories in the South Taiwan Science Park near Tainan evacuated thousands of staff. United Microelectronics Corporation reported NT$55 million in losses after a breakdown caused by the tremor.
The authorities closed the Kaomei Bridge linking Kaohsiung County to Pingtung County after cracks appeared, but reopened it after repair work. Inspectors traveled to the Hutoupei dam in Tainan County to investigate reports of a 15-meter long crack.
The electricity supply went down for 545,000 households in several parts of the country, but the Taiwan Power Corporation said it was working to restore service. There were also problems with telephone connections and water supply in some areas, reports said.
"Cell phone traffic increased fivefold compared to the same period on a normal day," said Chunghwa Telecom official Lin Kuo-feng, estimating that 100,000 users lost service shortly after the quake.
People were stuck inside elevators or hit by falling walls and parts of the ceiling at supermarkets in several places. A dormitory at the Shih Chien University in Neimen, Kaohsiung County and the Chiayi County Government building also recorded damage from the quake. A television set collapsed and exploded at a home in Meinung, cable stations reported.
A school dormitory in Liukui, Kaohsiung County, was damaged, reports said. The Ministry of Education said the quake had damaged 99 schools. Some schools decided to cancel classes for today, reports said.
The quake was the most serious to be centered in the Kaohsiung County mountains for over a century, said Kuo Kai-wen, the director of the Seismology Center at the Central Weather Bureau. A magnitude-6 tremor hit Kaohsiung in 1902, the bureau said.
Aftershocks of up to 5 were possible within one month, seismologists said.
The quake was related to the Chaochou Fault at the intersection of the Philippine Sea Plate with the continental Eurasian Plate, Kuo said.
He dismissed fears that the quake was the harbinger of more serious tremors to follow, or that there was any relation with last Saturday's magnitude-8.8 quake in Chile, which killed more than 800 people.
President Ma Ying-jeou traveled to Tainan to attend a meeting of the disaster relief committee for Southern Taiwan. The government sent about 300 soldiers into the mountains to stand by for relief operations, while helicopters shot footage of landslides.
Taiwan's most serious earthquake in recent memory was the September 21, 1999 tremor centered in Nantou County. More than 2,400 people died in the disaster, which caused buildings to collapse from Taichung to Taipei.