Powerful earthquake triggers tsunami warnings in Taiwan, Philippines

Powerful earthquake triggers tsunami warnings in Taiwan, Philippines

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A major earthquake rocked Taiwan’s east shortly before 8:00 am local time Wednesday, April 3, prompting tsunami warnings for the self-ruled island as well as parts of southern Japan. The United States Geological Survey (USGS) said the quake had a magnitude of 7.4, with its epicenter 18 kilometers (11 miles) south of Taiwan’s Hualien City at a depth of 34.8 km. Japan’s Meteorological Agency put the magnitude at 7.4.

“Evacuate!” said a banner on Japanese national broadcaster NHK. “Tsunami is coming. Please evacuate immediately,” an anchor on NHK said. “Don’t stop. Don’t go back.” Live TV footage from the Okinawa region’s ports, including Naha, showed vessels heading out to sea, possibly to protect their ships.

Taiwan is regularly hit by earthquakes because the island lies near the junction of two tectonic plates. A 7.6-magnitude jolt hit Taiwan in September 1999, killing around 2,400 people in the deadliest natural disaster in the island’s history. Japan experiences around 1,500 jolts every year. The vast majority are mild, although the damage they cause varies according to the depth of the epicenter below the Earth’s surface and its location.

A view of a damaged apartment following an offshore earthquake, in New Taipei City, Taiwan April 3, 2024.
In this image taken from a video footage run by TVBS, a partially collapsed building is seen in Hualien, eastern Taiwan on Wednesday, April 3, 2024.

‘Strongest in 25 years’

The earthquake is “the strongest in 25 years,” said the director of Taipei’s Seismology Center. “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 since the (1999) earthquake,” Wu Chien-fu told reporters, referring to a September 1999 quake with 7.6-magnitude that killed 2,400 people. Larger quakes usually cause little damage in Taiwan thanks to special construction techniques and strict building regulations.

The Philippines warned of “high tsunami waves” and called for the evacuation of coastal areas across the country. “The people in the coastal areas of the following provinces are strongly advised to immediately evacuate to higher grounds or move farther inland,” the state seismology institute said in an advisory. Coastal areas in 23 provinces from the north to the south of the archipelago nation, but not the capital Manila, “are expected to experience high tsunami waves” based on tsunami wave models, it added. “Owners of boats in harbors, estuaries, or shallow coastal water of the above-mentioned provinces should secure their boats and move away from the waterfront,” it said. “Boats already at sea during this period should stay offshore in deep waters until further advised.”

Flights were suspended at the main airport in Japan’s southern region of Okinawa due to a tsunami alert triggered by the earthquake in Taiwan, a government official said. Operations at Naha Airport were suspended from 9:25 am local time as a precautionary measure, a transport ministry official stationed at the airport. “Incoming flights need to entertain” at the airport, located on the west coast of Okinawa Island, the official said. A ministry official at another airport in the region, on Ishigaki Island, said flights were still running there. “We inspected the airport after the earthquake and the tsunami alert. There was no abnormality and our airport is not closed,” said the official in Ishigaki, adding that brief, moderate shaking had been felt at the airport.

The Japan Meteorological Agency downgraded its tsunami warning for Japan’s southern islands to a “tsunami advisory.” The JMA said waves as high as one meter (3.3 feet) could be recorded in the region following the earthquake. It had previously warned of an estimated maximum tsunami height of three meters. “Please avoid going near or into the sea until the advisory is lifted,” a JMA official said.

Le Monde with AFP

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