Wed, Sep 22, 1999 - Page 1 News List

Quake of the century

By Brian Hsu and William Ide  /  STAFF REPORTERS , WITH AGENCIES

The Tunghsing Building in Taipei, which housed the Sungshan Hotel, stands ruined after yesterday's earthquake. Less than a half of the 12-story building was left above ground. At least 60 people were still trapped inside at press time.


As the international community poured out condolences and sent rescue workers to Taiwan last night to join the desperate search for survivors of yesterday's earthquake, the nation continued to count the loss in life and property caused by its biggest temblor this century.

By midnight yesterday, a total of 1,712 people were reported killed, 4,005 injured, 219 missing and 2,991 trapped inside buildings, according to the Ministry of the Interior's disaster management center. About 30,000 houses were damaged or destroyed.

Meanwhile the first foreign group of rescue workers, comprising 71 professionals and six government officials, arrived from Japan, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said.

Chinese President Jiang Zemin extended condolences and offered aid to the quake victims, even though the disaster occurred at a time of tense relations between China and Taiwan.

Thanks were expressed in Taiwan, with Su Chi (蘇起), chairman of the Mainland Affairs Council, saying Jiang's remarks have helped improve the worsening ties between Taiwan and China.

President Lee Teng-hui (李登輝), meanwhile, busied himself with directly overseeing the rescue operations in the worst-hit parts of the island. Early yesterday he flew by helicopter to sites which suffered the worst damage. Late last night, he was presiding over an emergency meeting of the Cabinet, where he was briefed on the current situation.

Legislative Speaker Wang Jyn-ping (王金平) reportedly raised the prospect of declaring a state of emergency, but it received little support and was not pursued.

Minister of Finance Paul Chiu (邱正雄) announced after the meeting that the stock market would remain closed today, and a decision on opening it tomorrow would not be made until later today.

Brace yourselves, experts say, the `big one' is yet to come

Taiwan's leading seismologists had been predicting for some time that a large-scale earthquake was imminent. So one might expect members of their scientific community to be relieved, in a way, that it has finally arrived. But they aren't. The reason? This was not the earthquake they had been expecting. Which means that their original predictions stand: Taiwan is still, according to past records, scheduled for another

`big one.'

The quake struck at 1:47am yesterday morning, 12.5km west of Sun Moon Lake (日月潭) in Nantou County, while most residents were sleeping, hitting with what officials in Taiwan initially claimed was a force of 7.3 on the open-ended Richter scale. The US Geological Survey's National Earthquake Information Center, however, listed its strength as 7.6.

Since the main earthquake, the island has been struck by at least 36 major aftershocks among a total of 600 aftershocks of various strengths.

The quake caused power outages almost islandwide, though as of press time Taipower said electricity had been restored to 59 percent of the island.

Damage was sustained across nearly the entire island, mostly from Chiayi in the south to Taipei in the north, but the majority was sustained in Nantou and Taichung, near the epicenter, where hundreds of buildings -- many recently built -- were flattened.

In Taichung County alone, the death toll had reached 816 by press time and was expected to climb further along with the rescue work.

Several towns in central Taiwan were cut off as night fell with thousands of people still unaccounted for.

Centering on the small town of Puli, an area with a radius of at least 30 kilometers was still unreachable by rescuers except by helicopter.

As night fell, the few crews flying into the heart of the disaster zone were forced to suspend drops of medicine and food and airlifts of the injured as a cut in all supply of power to the hilly area had made flying too dangerous.

With communications and land transport broken, word of conditions inside the eye of the catastrophe, normally a honeymoon haven and center for culture and the arts, was scant.

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