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Hunt for dozens still trapped after Taiwan earthquake kills at least nine and injures 800

Hunt for dozens still trapped after Taiwan earthquake kills at least nine and injures 800

Some 127 people are still trapped in the aftermath of the most powerful earthquake to hit Taiwan in a quarter of a century.

A group of 77 are stuck in the Jinwen and Qingshui tunnels under mountains in Hualien county - the epicentre of the quake - with two German citizens trapped in the Chongde tunnel in Taroko National Park.

Meanwhile, 50 people are unable to get out of four minibuses which were en route from central Hualien City to nearby Taroko National Park, Taiwanese authorities confirmed.

They are staff members who were being taken to the Silks Place Taroko hotel in time for an upcoming four-day long weekend.

At least nine people were killed and more than 900 injured in the quake which struck at around 8am on Wednesday.

Several of those who died were also in Hualien County.

Officials at the Central Emergency Operation Centre said three of them were hikers hit by falling rocks on the Dekalun trail.

Meanwhile, a truck driver and another person in a private car died from falling debris in the Huide tunnel.

The nation’s earthquake monitoring agency measured it at a magnitude 7.2 on the Richter scale - the US Geological Survey put the earthquake at 7.4.

This would make it the strongest earthquake to hit Taiwan, which are common occurrence in the East Asian country, in a quarter century.

The quake also caused a small tsunami (about one foot) which hit southern Japanese islands. - there has been no report of injury or damage from this, Japan's chief cabinet secretary Yoshimasa Hayashi said.

But he urged the residents in the Okinawa region to stay on high ground until all tsunami advisories are lifted.

A damaged building in Hualien - the epicentre of the quake (CNA/AFP via Getty Images)
A damaged building in Hualien - the epicentre of the quake (CNA/AFP via Getty Images)

The Japan Meteorological Agency had forecast a tsunami of up to three metres for the southern Japanese island group of Okinawa.

Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen said at a press conference in New Tapei City: "At this time when there are frequent aftershocks, the government must ensure the accuracy of information and provide timely assistance to people in need, so that people can feel at ease and safe. We are ready to work together."

A five-storey building in Taiwan's Hualien appeared heavily damaged with the first floor collapsing and leaving the rest leaning at a 45-degree angle.

In the capital Taipei, tiles fell from older buildings and within some newer office complexes.

Emergency services treating a survivor (CNA/AFP via Getty Images)
Emergency services treating a survivor (CNA/AFP via Getty Images)

The earthquake struck at 7.58am with the epicentre about 11 miles south-southwest of Hualien and 22 miles deep.

Schools evacuated their students to sports fields, equipping them with yellow safety helmets. Some also covered themselves with textbooks to guard against falling objects as aftershocks continued.

Train services were suspended across the island of 23 million people, as was the subway service in Taipei, where a newly constructed above-ground line partially separated. The national legislature, a converted school built before the Second World War, also had damage to walls and ceilings.

Traffic along the east coast was at a virtual standstill, with landslides and falling debris hitting tunnels and roads in the mountainous region. Those caused damage to vehicles.

The national legislature, a converted school built before the Second World War, also had damage to walls and ceilings.

Schools evacuated their students to sports fields, equipping them with yellow safety helmets.

A search and rescue team prepare to enter a leaning building in the aftermath of the earthquake (AP)
A search and rescue team prepare to enter a leaning building in the aftermath of the earthquake (AP)

Some also covered themselves with textbooks to guard against falling objects as aftershocks continued.

Traffic along the east coast was brought to a virtual standstill, with landslides and falling debris hitting tunnels and highways in the mountainous region.

Taipei resident Hsien-hsuen Keng said: "Earthquakes are a common occurrence, and I've grown accustomed to them. But today was the first time I was scared to tears by an earthquake. I was awakened by the earthquake. I had never felt such intense shaking before."

She said her fifth-floor apartment shook so hard that "apart from earthquake drills in elementary school, this was the first time I had experienced such a situation".

The quake struck on Wednesday morning (UGC/AFP via Getty Images)
The quake struck on Wednesday morning (UGC/AFP via Getty Images)

Wu Chien-fu, the head of Taiwan's earthquake monitoring bureau, said effects were detected as far away as Kinmen, a Taiwanese-controlled island off the coast of China.

Chinese media confirmed the earthquake was felt in Shanghai and several provinces along China's south-eastern coast.

China and Taiwan are about 100 miles apart. China issued no tsunami warnings for the Chinese mainland.

Residents of China's Fujian province reported violent shaking, according to online outlet Jimu News.

One man told Jimu that the shaking awakened him and lasted about a minute.

A man looking at the damage after a brick wall in a house collapsed (CNA/AFP via Getty Images)
A man looking at the damage after a brick wall in a house collapsed (CNA/AFP via Getty Images)

In the Philippines, residents along the northern coast were told to evacuate to higher ground, but no major tsunami was reported about three hours after the quake.

Villagers in the provinces of Batanes, Cagayan, Ilocos Norte and Isabela were asked not to return to their homes until the tsunami alert was lifted, Teresito Bacolcol from the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology said.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre said there was no tsunami threat to Hawaii or Guam.

The quake was believed to be the biggest in Taiwan since one in 1999 caused extensive damage.

Taiwan lies along the Pacific 'Ring of Fire', the line of seismic faults encircling the Pacific Ocean where most of the world's earthquakes occur.

Hualien was last struck by a deadly quake in 2018, which saw the collapse of a historic hotel and other buildings. Taiwan's worst quake in recent years struck on September 21, 1999, with a magnitude of 7.7, causing 2,400 deaths, injuring around 100,000 and destroying thousands of buildings.