Quake kills two in Taiwan, triggers tsunami alert

Updated: 2006-12-27 06:37

A meteorologist at Taiwan's Central Weather Bureau in Taipei points to a graph showing the tremors of an earthquake measuring 6.7 on the Richter scale that rattled the island December 26, 2006.  [Reuters]

TAIPEI - A powerful earthquake struck off southwestern Taiwan on Tuesday, triggering a tsunami warning on the second anniversary of the waves that killed more than 200,000 in southern Asia.

Two hours later, seismologists lifted the warning, saying the threat of destructive waves had passed.

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Taiwanese media reported two person were killed and 38 injured in the southern city of Pingtung when their four-story home collapsed. Three other members of the family were trapped in the rubble and firefighters were working to free them, the reports said.

One member of the family - an 89-year old man - escaped from the building unharmed. Initial reports said all the people in the collapsed building had been freed, but these turned out to be unfounded.

They added that many streets in the city were cracked and a major bridge was damaged. Several fires broke out in the area, apparently caused by downed electric power cables.

The U.S. Geological Survey said the quake, which hit at 8:26 p.m. (1226 GMT), registered magnitude 7.1, while Taiwan's Central Weather Bureau measured it at 6.7. It was followed eight minutes later by an aftershock registering 7.0, the USGS said.

Japan's Meteorological Bureau said a one-meter (3.3-foot) tsunami might be headed toward the eastern coast of the Philippines, but later lifted the warning."The expected waves did not materialize ... the danger has passed," said Hiroshi Koide of the agency's earthquake section. "We predicted a tsunami based on the depth and magnitude of the earthquake. But ultimately, it appears no large tsunami was triggered."

According to China Seismological Bureau, two earthquakes -- the first measuring 7.2 on the Richter scale and the second measuring 6.7 -- hit the South China Sea on Tuesday. The epicenter was located at 21.9 degrees north latitude and 120.6 degrees east longitude, about 350 kilometers from the Chinese mainland and 15 kilometers from Taiwan.

Philippine police said coastal areas had been alerted.

The warning underscored the higher level of caution about tsunami waves in the region since a massive earthquake off Indonesia exactly two years earlier triggered a powerful tsunami in the Indian Ocean that killed 230,000 people in a dozen countries.

Tuesday's quake was felt throughout Taiwan. It swayed buildings and knocked objects off the shelves in the city of Taipei, in the northern part of the island. Phone lines were cut in the southern cities of Kaohsiung and Pingtung, possibly hindering reports of damage by residents, the CTI Cable News reported. Several high-rise hotels swayed violently in Kaohsiung, it said.Liao Ching-ling, a manager at Kaohsiung's Ambassador Hotel, said the quake was the strongest she had ever felt.

"The building swayed so badly that many guests panicked and ran out of their rooms and into the streets," she said.

The tremor was centered at sea about 23 kilometers (13 miles) southwest of Hengchun on the southern tip of Taiwan, the bureau said. Hengchun is about 450 kilometers (260 miles) south of Taipei.Quakes frequently shake Taiwan, which is part of the Pacific's "Ring of Fire," an arc of volcanos and fault lines encircling the Pacific Basin. Most are minor and cause little or no damage. However, a 7.6-magnitude earthquake in central Taiwan in September 1999 killed more than 2,300 people.

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