China - Taiwan Province

Five die, hundreds injured as quake hits Taiwan

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Taipei (dpa) - Five people died and more than 200 injured when Taiwan was hit by a strong earthquake on Sunday.

The epicentre of the earthquake, which happened at 2:52 p.m (0652 GMT), was 40 kilometres off Hualien on Taiwan's east coast, 9.6 kilometres under the sea.

The quake lasted for about a minute, shattering windows, toppling furniture and sending people dashing outdoors in panic.

By 1:09 a.m. Monday, 182 aftershocks had been registered with five measuring four or higher on the Richter scale.

All five deaths and most of the injured were in the capital of Taipei. They happened when two cranes were shaken loose from the top floor of the Taipei Financial Centre and crashed to the ground.

The two crane operators died instantly. One construction worker fell to his death when he was jolted off the 52nd floor. Another worker died after falling from the fifth floor while a third worker was injured and died in hospital.

One crane crashed on to four cars, injuring the occupants as well as some pedestrians.

Taipei Mayor Ma Ying-jeou will lead building safety inspectors to the construction site Monday morning to determine if building contractors bear any responsibility for the cranes shaking loose.

Taipei Financial Centre has 54 storeys but it is still being built. It is designed to be the world's tallest building - 508 metres with 101 storeys.

When completed in 2004, it will dwarf the world current tallest building - the 452-metre Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Sunday's quake probably will re-kindle the debate about whether the Taipei Financial Centre should be built because it is only six kilometres from the Taipei airport - thus conjuring thoughts about the September 11 attacks in New York and Washington - and sits on a fault line.

Taiwan sits on the circum-Pacific seismic belt which links the Aleutian Islands, Japan, the Philippines, Indonesia, New Zealand, Chile and the U.S. West Coast. Sixty-eight per cent of the world's earthquakes occur along this belt.

Most of the quakes in Taiwan occur off the east coast and are caused by the friction between the Philippine Sea Plate and the Eurasian Plate.

But it is inland quakes which cause the worst damages. Taiwan sits on some 50 fault lines.

On September 21, 1999, an earthquake measuring 7.3 hit Puli, central Taiwan, killing 2,400 people and injuring 10,000. The tremor was on the Chelongpu Fault.

Sunday's quake caused one four-storey apartment building in Taipei to collapse when its first floor crumbled. Seven residents trapped inside were rescued.

By Sunday night, inspectors had inspected 18 buildings and found two unsafe.

The quake triggered rockfalls in mountains and an eight-year-old boy was hit by a fallen rock on the head in the central mountains.

The quake caused slight damage to Taiwan's semiconductor production.

United Microelectronics Corp (UMC), Taiwan's second-largest chip maker, said engineers were repairing minor damage to equipment.

Taiwan is a world leader is semiconductor manufacturing, accounting for 10-15 per cent of world microchip output.

The Seismological Observation Centre said Sunday's quake was a normal release of seismic energy, and warned of tremors measuring up to five on the Richter scale in the next two weeks.

dpa dc ur AP-NY-03-31-02 1504EST

Copyright (c) 2002 dpa Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH
Received by NewsEdge Insight: 03/31/2002 15:04:33

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Copyright (c) dpa Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH