Powerful earthquake triggers tsunami warnings in Philippines, Taiwan, Japan


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. TVBS VIA AP

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.

‘Strongest in 25 years’

The earthquake is “the strongest in 25 years,” said the director of Taipei’s Seismology Centre. “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 Japan and Taiwan thanks to special construction techniques and strict building regulations. Japan has also developed sophisticated procedures and technology to alert and evacuate people when needed. Japan’s biggest earthquake on record was a massive 9.0-magnitude undersea jolt in March 2011 off Japan’s northeast coast, which triggered a tsunami that left around 18,500 people dead or missing.

The 2011 catastrophe also sent three reactors into meltdown at the Fukushima nuclear plant, causing Japan’s worst post-war disaster and the most serious nuclear accident since Chernobyl. The total cost was estimated at 16.9 trillion yen ($112 billion), not including the hazardous decommissioning of the Fukushima facility, which is expected to take decades. Despite stricter building guidelines, many structures, particularly outside major cities, but not only there, are old and vulnerable. This was brought home in the 7.5-magnitude New Year’s Day earthquake in 2024, which hit the Noto Peninsula and killed more than 230 people, many of them when older buildings collapsed.

Le Monde with AFP

The article is in Norwegian

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