Earthquakes in Taiwan

Jiji Earthquake – Wuchang Temple. Photography: Zairon

Tyler Leu, Staff Writer

Taiwan is an island located off the coast of China; north of the Philippines, south of Japan. Even though Taiwan is only roughly the size of Maryland and Delaware combined, it has an active fault line that runs through it. The fault line is between the Eurasian and Philippine plates, and is the same fault that created the Mariana Trench (the deepest part of the ocean). As a result of this fault line, almost every year Taiwan experiences a notable earthquake. For example, in the years from 2015 to 2022, each one has had a magnitude 5 or above earthquake. 2022 has already had an earthquake. It happened on January 3rd and was a magnitude 6.2. Even though not much damage was caused by the recent earthquake, that cannot be said about past earthquakes.

On September 21st, 1999, a magnitude 7.7 earthquake hit the island, epicenter in the town of Jiji, east of Taichung. The earthquake was only 8km deep, which made the earthquake worse. This earthquake is by far the largest earthquake to hit the island in recent history. As a result of the earthquake, 51,711 homes/buildings were destroyed, 2,415 people were killed, and 11,305 people were injured. Because the earthquake happened at 1:47 AM, people did not have the opportunity to leave and were instead thrown around while their room was collapsing. The Wuchang Temple located in Jiji was destroyed by this crazy earthquake. The earthquake was island-wide, meaning that it impacted the entire island. 

The next earthquake is the biggest in the past few years. In 2018, an earthquake was felt mostly in the Hualien area, but also was felt in other parts of the islands like Taichung. This earthquake happened at 11:50 on February 6th, 2018. Like the last earthquake, many people were sleeping at this time and were awoken by the shaking.  Dr. Lǚ Gang-yuan and his wife, residents of Taichung, were awoken by the earthquake. “The shaking was not too bad where we were,” Dr. Lǚ recalled. This can not be said about Hualien, the epicenter of the earthquake. The earthquake was a magnitude 6.4 on the Richter scale. A building in Hualien was severely tilted to the side. This happened because of the collapsing of lower floors in the building. The developer, architect, and engineer that designed the building were arrested for not following protocols. 17 people in total died due to this earthquake.

2018 Earthquake In Hualien City Taiwan
Photographer: Cho Hsun Lu

The last earthquake we will talk about today is the April 18th, 2019 earthquake. This earthquake, also epicentered in Hualien was a magnitude 6.1 on the Richter scale. This earthquake caused less damage than the others, but was still felt in Hualien, Yilan, Taipei, and neighboring cities. The earthquake caused damage to some buildings in Taipei, and left one person dead. Dr. James Leu, an endocrinologist at Reading Hospital, PA, was in Taipei at the time of this earthquake. “Even though I personally didn’t really feel the earthquake because I was in the underground floors of a mall,” Dr. Leu remembered, “I did talk to someone who was in a tall apartment building at the time of the earthquake. She said that the apartment was swaying back and forth.” The swaying of buildings is actually a defense mechanism against earthquakes for taller buildings. If the building can sway with the earthquake, it is less likely for it to be damaged. Many tall buildings in earthquake prone areas have this defense against damage from earthquakes.

Taiwan’s seemingly annual earthquakes have become a part of living on the island. You just have to expect an earthquake to happen every now and then when living near a fault line. Even though there are earthquakes sometimes, that shouldn’t discourage people from visiting Taiwan. Taiwan is full of beautiful sights, delicious food, and kind people. With enhanced technology, earthquakes may not affect humans in the future, removing fears when traveling to fault line countries.