3 Apr 2024

Kiwis caught in magnitude 7.7 Taiwan quake: 'Really, really terrifying'

6:26 pm on 3 April 2024
This photo taken by Taiwan's Central News Agency (CNA) on April 3, 2024 shows people looking at a damaged building in Hualien, after a major earthquake hit Taiwan's east. A major 7.4-magnitude earthquake hit Taiwan's east on the morning of April 3, prompting tsunami warnings for the self-ruled island as well as parts of southern Japan and the Philippines. (Photo by CNA / AFP) / China OUT - Macau OUT - Taiwan OUT / HONG KONG OUT - RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE

People looking at a damaged building in Hualien, after a major earthquake hit Taiwan's east. Photo: CNA / AFP

New Zealanders in Taiwan when a major 7.7 earthquake struck off the eastern coast say everyone is on edge, waiting for the next aftershock.

The 7.7 magnitude quake had its epicentre 18km south of the city of Hualien and struck around 9am local time.

Media in Taiwan are reporting people have been trapped under collapsed buildings. Military personnel have been dispatched to help with disaster relief and schools and workplaces have closed as aftershocks hit.

A tsunami warning was issued following the quake with residents on the island's northern coast told to evacuate to higher ground.

The earthquake is the strongest to hit Taiwan in 25 years.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade said there were 137 New Zealanders registered in Taiwan at the time of the quake.

One of those was former RNZ employee Delphine Herbert, who told Checkpoint she had arrived in the capital Taipei the previous afternoon and was just waking up when it hit.

"Today was meant to be our first full day of sightseeing here in Taiwan.

"But I was just kind of waking up and I'm from Canterbury... I've experienced the February [2011] and September [2010] earthquakes, and I felt a jolt and thought, 'Oooh, that's quite interesting - is that going to be an earthquake?' And sure enough, it slowly starting building and building to quite a significant earthquake."

Delphine Herbert

Delphine Herbert was in Taiwan when the major earthquake struck. Photo: RNZ

Herbert's accommodation was on the 16th floor, so she and her partner were unable to run outside.

"So we just had to stand in the doorway, and I think it was probably one of the most longest and strongest earthquakes I've ever felt.

"It was long and intense - I think it probably went on for about a minute ... it was really terrifying."

As the earthquake eased, Herbert said hotel staff told her to evacuate.

"We had to run down 16 flights of stairs and, being from Christchurch, [I knew] there were going to be aftershocks," she said.

"One of the things running through my mind was: I hope there isn't an aftershock while we're in the stairwell. There was glass, plaster, it's the last place you want to be during an aftershock."

She said the damage in the district there were staying in had been minimal.

"No damage where we are, we've walked to the next district and we've seen a little bit of damage but nothing compared to the next city over," she said.

Herbert said they were now "out and about" and looking for a place to eat. Not only had she experienced the Christchurch earthquakes, but her partner had also been in Nepal in 2015, when a 7.8 magnitude quake left about 9000 people dead and 22,000 injured.

"You don't believe it's happening - you've lived through the Christchurch ones, now you've just landed in a foreign country, you don't know what the buildings are like, you don't know what emergency services are like, it's just really, really terrifying."

Herbert said frequent aftershocks were keeping many people on edge, but others were carrying on as normal.

"In our area... we walked past a school and kids are still there playing on the playground, people are still using public transport," she said.

"But I know in other districts 20 or 30 minutes from here, it's a completely different story."

Other Kiwis have spoken about their experiences of today's quake in Taiwan.

Former Wellingtonian Ron Hanson has lived in Taichung City for close to 25 years, where he says earthquakes occur often - but they were not usually this big.

"It must have been around eight o'clock in the morning and I was still asleep and it started rocking and at first I thought, 'Oh whatever'.

"I usually just sleep through them to be honest. But this one just kept building in intensity and it lasted for well over a minute I'd say. The scary thing was the shaking."

Hanson said he immediately thought of Taiwan's last major earthquake in 1999, where more than 2000 people died, and he hoped this quake was not as catastrophic.

Meanwhile, another Kiwi Nick van Halderen said it was the biggest earthquake he had felt during his six years living in Taipei.

"I had just woken up in my apartment, which is on the 11th floor of a highrise building in central Taipei. There was a violent shaking up and down, then left to right and big rolling movements," he said.

"Luckily nothing fell over in our house, but I know other people have had a lot of damage."

He said he was grateful to live in a newer building.

"Our building is quite new and is connected to the [metro] system so it's a very sturdy, solid structure," he said.

"If I was living in one of the older buildings which are very dilapidated I would feel much more afraid."

Van Halderen said a number of buildings in the city were unsafe.

"It is quite a problem in Taipei - a lot of the buildings are very aged and not so safe. They're trying to demolish a lot of them. I think this is going to be a big motivation to keep pushing that."