A powerful 6.4-magnitude earthquake rocked southern Taiwan on Thursday, terrifying residents, disrupting communications and triggering at least one large fire. Sixty-four people were injured, the National Fire Agency said.
No tsunami alert was issued. The quake was centered in the same mountainous region of rural Kaohsiung county that endured the brunt of the damage from Typhoon Morakot, a devastating storm that killed about 700 people last August.
Taiwanese actor Chu Chung-heng said he and other passengers were close to panic when the high-speed train on which they were traveling was dislodged from its track by the quake.
“Many people in my car were screaming,” he said. “I was so scared that I couldn’t make a sound. The train shook very hard, and I thought it was going to overturn.”
Rail service in southern and central Taiwan was suspended, as was the state-of-the-art subway system in Kaohsiung city, Taiwan’s second largest with a population of 1.5 million. Kaohsiung is about 250 miles (400 kilometers) south of Taipei.
Kuo says the Taiwan, Chile, and Haiti quakes involved different tectonic plates. Globally, he says, there’s an average of one magnitude 8 or higher earthquake per year, some 17 magnitude 7 or higher quakes, and 170 to 180 of magnitude 6 or larger.
So far this year there’s only been one quake higher than 8 – Chile’s fearsome, 8.8 magnitude temblor. Last year there were 16 magnitude 7 or higher quakes, right at the average. And so far this year there have been three magnitude 7 or higher quakes, including Haiti’s.
“From a global view, that’s not especially a lot,” says Kuo.
Taiwan is frequently rocked by quakes, experiencing one of magnitude 7 or higher every five years and a quake of magnitude 6 or higher every 100 days. “We’ve only had one like this so far this year, so that’s still normal,” says Kuo.
Kuo’s numbers were from the Richter or “local” magnitude scale, which is slightly different from the “moment magnitude” scale used by the US Geological Survey.
In the wake of the quake, blazes had to be doused before the cleanup could begin. Taiwan must now figure out how to rebuild.