64 injured in powerful Taiwan quake

TAIPEI: A powerful earthquake jolted southern Taiwan today, injuring 64 people, toppling farm houses and derailing a carriage on a high-speed train.

Panicked residents fled shaking buildings in the 6.4-magnitude quake, which also momentarily cut off electricity to more than half a million homes.

The US Geological Survey said the tremor struck about 70 km from the island’s second-largest city Kaohsiung, but it was felt as far north as the capital Taipei, several hundred kilometres away.

“We are monitoring the aftermath for any potential damage,” President Ma Ying-jeou told reporters during a hastily arranged trip to Tainan, a city north of the epicentre.

Out of the 64 officially counted as injured by 6:00 pm, 33 were in Tainan county, the national fire agency said.

The quake struck in a sparsely inhabited mountainous area in Jiahsian township in Kaohsiung county, an area still recovering from a massive typhoon that triggered floods and mudslides in August, killing about 700 people.

“It felt like the buildings were going to collapse,” said Chen Pei-chi, a teacher in Shiaolin Elementary School in a village close to the epicentre.

It was the biggest earthquake to hit the Kaohsiung area in recent years, the weather bureau reported.

The bureau said the initial quake at 0018 GMT was followed by 19 aftershocks. The strongest, with a magnitude of 5.7, hit eight hours later.

Local television showed footage of collapsed farm houses in Kaohsiung county as well as cracked walls and falling ceiling panels in buildings in the nearby Chiayi area. Islandwide, 540,000 homes were left temporarily without power.

The quake derailed a train carriage on the high-speed rail connecting the north and the south of the island, leaving passengers stranded for two hours, the national fire agency said, but there were no casualties.

A fire broke out in a textile factory in Tainan county, with one worker slightly hurt during the evacuation, the agency said.

No tsunami warning was issued from the quake, which the USGS said struck at a depth of 35 km.