The doomsayer who had predicted that a “super earthquake” would devastate Taiwan yesterday morning turned out to be the boy who cried wolf, with the Central Weather Bureau (CWB) confirming that no major seismic activity had been recorded.
Wang Chao-hung (王超弘), known as “Teacher Wang,” wrote on his blog last month that based on his studies of the Chinese classic I Ching (易經), also known as the Book of Changes, a magnitude 14 earthquake would hit Taiwan on May 11 at 10:42.37am.
At press time, records from the bureau showed that only two magnitude 3.7 temblors were recorded yesterday, one occurring in Yilan County at 11:25am and the other in Taitung County at 4:31pm.
While bureau officials and seismologists had dismissed Wang’s doomsday remarks as “nonsense,” he had nevertheless managed to attract a number of followers, who built 170 shelters converted from cargo containers in Puli Township (埔里), Nantou County.
Wang had claimed the containers would be safe while the earthquake and an ensuing tsunami devastated the nation.
As “zero hour” approached, hundreds of people, with about 40 police officers looking on, gathered at the site of the shelters to see what Wang and his followers would do on “doomsday.”
A group of university students also started a countdown, shouting: “Ha, nothing happened!” and “Teacher Wang! Teacher Wang!” after 10:42.37am came and went.
A defiant Wang initially said the earthquake would “definitely happen,” but later changed his tune and admitted he was drunk when he made the prophecy.
Liao Ta-yi, a garden designer, accused Wang of fraud and trying to cheat money from gullible followers.
“The cement base of the shelter is unlikely to resist anything like a magnitude 14 earthquake,” he said.
Authorities are also investigating whether Wang may have “colluded” with operators in the container industry — a charge he has flatly denied.
“I didn’t believe Wang at all,” an elderly woman said. “But then again, I’m happy his prediction didn’t come true.”
Wang also said his statements were “misinterpreted” by journalists.
“When did I lie? I was just talking to some people here, but the media exaggerated what I said and I had nothing to do with it,” he said.
Bureau Director-General Shin Tzay-chin (辛在勤) said the bureau had sent Wang an official warning that his action could be in contravention of the Meteorological Act (氣象法).
The act states that individuals and organizations can be fined between NT$200,000 (US$7,000) and NT$1 million for issuing weather forecasts or warnings of hazardous meteorological and seismological phenomena without the bureau’s permission.
However, “as he [Wang] stopped making further comments [on the earthquake], we decided not to fine him,” Shin said.
Wang is not the only person to claim to have the ability to predict earthquakes.
Kuo Kai-wen (郭鎧紋), director of the bureau’s seismology center, said the bureau received an average of three phone calls every day requesting the bureau to confirm their accurate earthquake predictions.
Some claim their bodies can “sense” earthquakes. A headache, for example, could mean that an earthquake would hit the northern part of the country, he said.
Commenting on the massive media coverage of Wang and his followers, National Communications Commission (NCC) spokesperson Chen Jeng-chang (陳正倉) said media had to ask themselves if the story was worth reporting and that it was in the public interest to do so.
“Still, the NCC could be accused of suppressing freedom of the press if we mishandled it,” Chen said, adding that the commission was in a bind.
May Chen (陳依玫), chairwoman of the self-disciplinary committee at the Satellite Television Broadcasting Association, said the story had news value and was something people were concerned about.
“It generated such a strong reaction from the public ... and we could not pretend that it never happened,” May Chen said. “Had we chosen not to report it, we would have been conducting self-censorship.”
She added that most TV reports stressed that it was an act by a small group of people and tried to balance out the reports by interviewing seismologists and CWB officials.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY AFP