Thu, May 22, 2008 - Page 2 News List

Specialists quizzed on earthquake threat

THE NEXT BIG ONE Although Taiwan is a world leader in understanding the causes of earthquakes, predicting when and where they will hit next remains a challenge

By Shelley Shan  /  STAFF REPORTER

The catastrophic earthquake in Sichuan Province has caused some to question Taiwan's preparedness for its next big quake.

Lawmakers at the legislature’s Transportation Committee asked officials from the National Science Council (NSC), the National Center for Research on Earthquake Engineering (NCREE) and the Ministry of the Interior yesterday to brief the committee on the latest developments in the nation’s earthquake monitoring system and how well equipped the nation is to face natural disasters.

Democratic Progressive Party Legislator Chang Hwa-kuan (張花冠), who represents a constituency in Chiayi County, asked new NSC minister Lee Luo-chuang (李羅銓) if a large earthquake was likely in Chiayi.

Lee said that although Taiwan excels in earthquake research, it was not in a position to predict when one would take place.

“Taiwan is a world leader in terms of understanding the causes and early signs of earthquakes,” Lee said.

But even if researchers had been able to determine that the density of the ionized layer was lower than normal prior to the devastating earthquake that struck Taiwan on Sept. 21, 1999, they still would not have been able to predict when it would occur, he said.

NCREE director Tsai Keh-chyuan (蔡克銓) said there are more than 40 fault lines under Taiwan. As quakes are unpredictable, the center has chosen to focus on the most likely epicenters.

Pressed by lawmakers, Tsai said that the most risky fault lines were in Chiayi and Tainan.

After his comments sparked a series of questions by lawmakers, Tsai backtracked and said that Taiwan is such a small piece of land that an earthquake could happen anytime, anywhere.

“The nation spends so much money researching earthquakes,” Chang said in response to Tsai’s comments. “But unlike toads and insects, seismologists still can’t predict when an earthquake will occur.”

Chang was referring to the large number of toads seen on the streets in Sichuan before the earthquake hit last Monday.

Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Huang Chao-shun (黃昭順) said the real estate market in southern Taiwan could collapse if Tsai’s comments were true.

Lee said that a large part of earthquake research focused on signs in nature, including insect behavior and climate change, before an earthquake strikes.

He said, however, that much more research needed to be done before such signs could be understood and interpreted as predictors of an earthquake.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY CNA

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