US offers help as nine die, 1,000 injured in Taiwan earthquake

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At least nine people were killed and more than 1,000 were injured on Wednesday by a powerful earthquake in Taiwan that damaged dozens of buildings and prompted tsunami warnings that extended to Japan and the Philippines before being lifted.

Dozens of people were believed safe but unreachable in areas cut off by massive landslides triggered by the quake – many in tunnels that cut through the mountains that bisect the island from North to South.

Officials said the quake was the strongest to shake the island in decades, and warned of more tremors in the days ahead, AFP reported.

Strict building regulations and widespread public disaster awareness appear to have staved off a major catastrophe for the earthquake-prone island, which lies near the junction of two tectonic plates.

“We were very lucky,” said a woman surnamed Chang, who lived next door to a printing press warehouse near the capital that virtually pancaked in the quake, but all 50 inside at the time were plucked to safety.

“Many of the decorations at home fell on the floor, but people were safe.”

The director of Taipei’s Central Weather Administration’s Seismology Centre, Wu Chien-fu, said the quake was the strongest since a 7.6-magnitude struck in September 1999, killing around 2,400 people in the deadliest natural disaster in the island’s history.

Wednesday’s magnitude-7.4 quake hit just before 8am local time, with the United States Geological Survey putting the epicentre 18 kilometres (11 miles) south of Taiwan’s Hualien City, at a depth of 34.8 kilometres.

Three people among a group of seven on an early-morning hike through the hills that surround the city were crushed to death by boulders loosened by the earthquake, officials said.

AFP further reports that separately, three died while driving when their vehicles were hit by tumbling rocks, while another died at a quarry.

The National Fire Agency said all the fatalities had been in Hualien county, adding that 1,011 people across Taiwan had sustained injuries without specifying how serious.

US offers help

The United States “stands ready to provide any necessary assistance” to Taiwan following a huge earthquake that injured hundreds and killed at least nine people, the White House said on Wednesday.

“We are monitoring reports of the earthquake impacting Taiwan and continue to monitor its potential impact on Japan,” National Security Council spokeswoman Adrienne Watson added in a statement.

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