Internet InfoMedia live updates strong taiwan quake kills 9 injures hundreds
Mike Ives

April 3, 2024, 2:58 a.m. ET

April 3, 2024, 2:58 a.m. ET

Emergency workers helping a survivor in New Taipei City on Wednesday.Taiwan’s Central News Agency, via Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Taiwan’s earthquake preparedness has evolved over the past few decades in response to some of the island’s largest and most destructive quakes.

In the years after a 7.6 magnitude earthquake in central Taiwan killed nearly 2,500 people in 1999, the authorities established an urban search-and-rescue team and opened several emergency medical operation centers, among other measures.

And in 2018, after a quake in the eastern coastal city of Hualien killed 17 people and caused several buildings to partially collapse, the government ordered a wave of building inspections.

Taiwan has also been improving its early warning system for earthquakes since the 1980s. And two years ago, it rolled out new building codes that, among other things, require owners of vulnerable buildings to install ad-hoc structural reinforcements.

So how well prepared was Taiwan when a 7.4 magnitude quake struck near Hualien on Wednesday morning, killing at least seven people and injuring hundreds more?

Across the island, one building collapsed entirely, 15 others were in a state of partial collapse and another 67 were damaged, the island’s fire department said on Wednesday afternoon. Structural engineers could not immediately be reached for comment to assess that damage, or the extent to which building codes and other regulations might have either contributed to it or prevented worse destruction.

As for search-and-rescue preparedness, Taiwan is generally in very good shape, said Steve Glassey, an expert in disaster response who lives in New Zealand.

The skill sets, the capabilities, the equipment, the training is second to none,” said Dr. Glassey, who worked with Taipei’s urban search-and-rescue team during the response to a devastating 2011 earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand. “They’re a very sharp operation.”

Relief workers from Taiwan in Christchurch, New Zealand, after an earthquake in 2011.Pool photo by Mark Baker

But even the best urban search-and-rescue team will be stretched thin if an earthquake causes multiple buildings to collapse, Dr. Glassey said.

Taiwan has options for requesting international help with search-and-rescue efforts. It could directly ask another country, or countries, to send personnel. And if multiple teams were to get involved, it could ask the United Nations to help coordinate them, as it did after the 1999 earthquake.

Pierre Peron, a spokesman for the United Nations, said on Wednesday afternoon that no such request had yet been made as a result of the latest earthquake.

Meaghan Tobin contributed reporting.

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