Dozens of aftershocks keep Taiwan on its toes

By Vincent Y. Chao and Lisa Wang  /  STAFF REPORTERS, WITH AGENCIES

Mon, Dec 21, 2009 - Page 1

More than 129 aftershocks followed Saturday night’s powerful earthquake, which injured 14 people and caused minor damage in the capital as well as near the epicenter, officials said.

The Central Weather Bureau said the earthquake was the strongest to hit the nation this year.

The Seismological Center said that as of yesterday afternoon, there had been 129 aftershocks, 18 of which could be felt.

Center Director Kuo Kai-wen (郭鎧紋) said the public should brace for more aftershocks in the next few days, but added that they were likely to be less than 6.8 on the Richter scale.

He said that Saturday’s earthquake was the result of the Philippine Sea Plate pushing against the massive Eurasian plate to the north, adding that although aftershocks were likely to persist over the following few days, their impact should be minimal.

The US Geological Survey, which measured Saturday’s earthquake at 6.4 on the Richter scale, said it was centered off the eastern coast of Taiwan, about 25km from Hualien. It struck at a depth of about 45km. The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center did not immediately issue any warning.

All 14 victims sustained minor injuries in Hualien, an official from the National Fire Agency said.

Thirteen became ill after inhaling chlorine gas that leaked from a hotel, and another was hurt by falling debris caused by Saturday’s earthquake, said the official, who declined to be named because he was not authorized to speak to the press.

The National Fire Agency reported that 13 people were hospitalized because of a chlorine leak at a Hualien area hotel, while another woman was lightly wounded by falling rocks.

Media reports from Hualien County yesterday showed that power had resumed for the near 9,000 households that experienced blackouts after the earthquake.

County officials said that highways, railroads and communications links had been restored after rescue crews worked late into the night.

Buildings shook in the capital for several seconds after the earthquake struck.

Taipei’s MRT and the high-speed rail service were suspended, local TV reports reported.

Earthquakes frequently rattle Taiwan, but most are minor and cause little or no damage.

However, a 7.6-magnitude temblor in central Taiwan in 1999 killed more than 2,300 people. In 2006, a 6.7-magnitude earthquake south of Kaohsiung severed undersea cables and disrupted telephone and Internet services to millions throughout Asia.

Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co (TSMC, 台積電), the world’s biggest contract chipmaker, said the temblor did not have “an immediate impact” on the operation of its plants, company spokesman Tzeng Jin-hao (曾晉皓) said.