The strongest earthquake to hit Taiwan in 25 years kills at least 9 people

HONG KONG — A 7.4-magnitude earthquake struck Wednesday off Taiwan, killing nine people, injuring hundreds and collapsing buildings in the strongest quake the island has seen in at least 25 years.

The quake occurred around 8 a.m. local time (8 p.m. Tuesday, Eastern time) at a depth of about 21 miles, according to the US Geological Survey. It was about 11 miles southwest of Hualien City on the east coast of the island.

The Taiwan Fire Department said at least nine people were killed and 882 others were injured. Officials said the number of casualties could rise in the coming days.

The earthquake also triggered tsunami warnings that were later lifted in Taiwan, Japan and the Philippines.

Annie Lima, an American who has lived in Taiwan for nearly 17 years and arrived in Hualien to visit friends on Tuesday, said she was still feeling aftershocks in the afternoon, hours after the first quake.

“It was very scary,” she told NBC News in an interview. “In all the years I've lived here and in Southern California before that, I've felt a lot of earthquakes, but this was the strongest and scariest of all.”

A damaged building in Hualien City, Taiwan, after a 7.4 magnitude earthquake struck on Wednesday.TVBS via AP

When things started to unravel, Lima said, she and her husband jumped up and ran toward the nearest entrance.

“Even up there in the second-floor hallway, we could barely keep our balance, you know, holding on to either side of the hallway,” she said. “And all around us things were falling off the walls and off the shelves, breaking and smashing everywhere.”

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The damage was concentrated in Hualien County in eastern Taiwan, near the epicenter, where officials said they were working to free 131 trapped people.

A video posted on social media showed a building in Hualien City that appeared to be nine stories high, partially collapsed and remained standing at an angle. There is another building, which appears to be five storeys high, in a similar location.

Jason Delecta, an American who lives in nearby Mellon, said that once he cleaned the house, he headed to his restaurant in Hualien, Salt Lick Smokehouse & Grill, where the damage was “a little worse.”

“We lost most of our plates, because they were all on top of the line, so they were all shaking and falling over,” he said. “We lost a lot of liquor bottles, beer bottles, glasses, things like that.”

Delecta was expecting an influx of visitors this weekend, a four-day holiday in Taiwan marking a traditional Chinese festival known as Tomb Sweeping Day when people honor their ancestors. But with the earthquake disrupting rail services and damaging the main road to Hualien, there is no easy way to get there at the moment.

“The damage to our restaurant wasn't too bad, but the economic damage to this city will be more due to the loss of revenue,” said Delecta, who was also in Hualien in 2018 when the 6.4 magnitude earthquake struck. An earthquake killed 17 people.

Wednesday's quake was felt across Taiwan, the Central News Agency reported. The agency said that the metro systems in the capital, Taipei, as well as the cities of Taichung and Kaohsiung, were halted before most of them resumed work.

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Road collapse in New Taipei City following the earthquake.An Rong Xu/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The earthquake led to a power outage to more than 87,000 families and was followed by a series of aftershocks, the largest of which reached a magnitude of 6.5, according to the Central Weather Administration in Taiwan. The agency listed the initial quake's magnitude at 7.2.

Wu Xinfu, a seismology official, said this is the strongest earthquake Taiwan has witnessed since 1999, when a 7.6-magnitude quake killed about 2,400 people.

The US Geological Survey said tremors from the initial quake were “very strong” in the Hualien area and were felt strongly elsewhere.

a Live camera on YouTube Lake Liyu near Hualien, which was showing a calm and sunny scene, began shaking violently at 7:58 a.m. local time.

Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen said on Wednesday that a disaster response center had been established, and that the national army would provide support to local governments. “I would like to remind everyone not to use the elevator for the time being, and pay more attention to safety,” she said, citing the aftershocks.

TSMC, one of the largest companies in Taiwan's critical semiconductor industry, said its safety systems were operating normally and that some manufacturing plants had been evacuated as a precaution.

The company said in a statement: “All employees are fine, and those evacuated have begun returning to their workplaces.” “The company is currently confirming details of the impact.”

A local resident inspects damage to a brick wall inside a house in Taipei.CNA/AFP – Getty Images

Earlier on Wednesday, officials in Japan issued a tsunami warning and evacuation order for coastal areas in southern Okinawa Prefecture, warning of waves up to three meters (about 10 feet) high. As of late morning, the largest wave reported was 30 cm (about 12 inches) high on the Japanese island of Yonaguni, near Taiwan.

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Tsunami warnings and evacuation orders were also issued in parts of the Philippines.

Feelings of tremors were reported elsewhere in the region, including by social media users in Fujian, a province on China's southeastern coast that lies across from Taiwan. Videos posted online also showed chandeliers swaying in cities in other parts of China including Shanghai and Hangzhou.

In the Chinese territory of Hong Kong, the Hong Kong Observatory said that it had received more than 100 reports of earthquakes, describing the vibrations as similar to “passing light trucks.”

A spokesman for China's Taiwan Affairs Office, which claims Taiwan as its own, said mainland authorities extend their “sincere condolences to the affected compatriots in Taiwan” and will closely monitor the situation and provide disaster relief assistance.

Hualien City, about 70 miles southeast of Taipei, has a population of about 106,000. The population of the governorate is about 340,000 people.

Taiwan is located on the so-called Ring of Fire that surrounds the Pacific Basin and is famous for earthquakes.

Jennifer Jett reported from Hong Kong and Janice McKee Fryer reported from Beijing.

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