Massive earthquake jolts Taiwan; at least 1,100 killed
September 21, 1999
TAIPEI, Taiwan (CNN) -- Rescue crews combed through mountains of twisted concrete and steel Tuesday, hours after a powerful early morning earthquake jolted Taiwan, leaving hundreds dead. State radio described it as the strongest tremor to hit the island in more than a decade.
Officials said at least 1,100 people were killed, about 3,500 injured and more than 1,000 others were trapped in toppled homes and buildings, some in elevators.
The quake struck at 1:47 a.m. (1747 GMT Monday). The U.S. Geological Survey, which monitors seismic activity worldwide, said the tremor had a preliminary magnitude of 7.6 and was centered in Nantou county, some 90 miles (150 km) southwest of the capital Taipei. Taiwanese officials put the magnitude at 7.3.
Most of the victims were found in the central city of Taichang and nearby Nantou, where hospitals quickly filled with injured people.
Search teams combed flattened residential buildings for trapped survivors as hundreds of unhurt residents watched from the street, where water poured from ruptured water mains.
President Lee Tung-hui flew by helicopter to Taichang to direct rescue operations and ordered the military to assist.
Frantic search efforts in Taipei
In the capital Taipei, dozens were feared dead after a 12- story hotel slid off its foundation and smashed into an adjacent building.
The top of the battered structure leaned dangerously to the right after several bottom stories collapsed. Later in the morning, rescue efforts grew frantic as fires began to rage inside the building.
A woman already pulled from the wreckage urged rescuers to intensify their efforts.
"Hurry, go rescue people. They're in there. They're inside," said the unidentified woman. "I lived on the ninth floor, but now its the fourth floor."
Sixty people were still feared trapped in the building, with 49 already evacuated and sent to the hospital. Another 11 people were evacuated uninjured.
Meanwhile, 50 people were reported injured when a 12-story apartment building collapsed in the Taipei suburb of Hsinchuang. An estimated 100 others were still trapped in the building, which collapsed onto a neighboring five-story structure.
'The most violent thing imaginable'
Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne, leading a 20-member trade delegation to Taiwan, said he was on the top floor of the 25- story Grand Hyatt Regency Hotel when the quake struck.
"This was absolutely the most violent thing imaginable," he said. "Many, many people are feeling emotionally sickened by this."
Four aftershocks with magnitudes of about 6.0 shook the region,
"When you have aftershocks of this magnitude, many of the buildings that were weakened in the main shock could be brought down by these strong aftershocks," said Waverly Person, a geophysicist with the U.S. Geological Survey.
Taipei Mayor Ma Ying-jeou announced schools and offices would be closed Tuesday. The government said financial markets would also stay shut.
Although Taiwan is hit by dozens of quakes each year, most are centered in the Pacific Ocean east of the island and rarely cause damage.
China offers assistance
Chinese President Jiang Zemin expressed concern for the victims offered assistance to the estranged island.
"We express our utmost concern over this major disaster," the official Xinhua news agency quoted Jiang as saying. "We are willing to provide all possible assistance to reduce losses from the earthquake disaster."
China's communist government regards Taiwan, which has been ruled separately since civil war ended in 1949, as a renegade province. Relations soured in July after Taiwan insisted on "state to state relations" between the two entities.
"Compatriots of the two sides are as closely linked as flesh and blood," Jiang said Tuesday. The catastrophe and agony of our Taiwan compatriots influences the hearts of all Chinese."
In Washington, President Clinton said he and Mrs. Clinton were "saddened" by news of the quake.
"We are in touch directly with the Taiwan authorities to determine what assistance from the United States may be needed," he said.
Tuesday's earthquake is the strongest in 13 years. A magnitude 7.8 quake struck on November 14, 1986, in about the same region, killing 15 and injuring 44 others.
It measured a similar magnitude to the recent Turkey quake that killed at least 15,000 people.
Hong Kong Bureau Chief Mike Chinoy, The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.
Copyright 1999 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.
Hundreds injured in Turkey's second deadly quake in month
USGS National Earthquake Information Center
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