A powerful earthquake struck Taiwan on April 3, 2024 (Credit: Shufu Liu/ Office of the President CC-BY-2.0/ Wikimedia Commons)

On April 3, 2024, a 7.4 magnitude earthquake struck Taiwan's east coast. The tremor, centered 11 miles south of the coastal city of Hualien, was the most powerful to hit the island nation in 25 years. It was felt across the country and as far away as Hong Kong and Shanghai, China. The quake sent boulders and mud tumbling down the mountains and destroyed or damaged several buildings in Hualien. At least 13 people were killed, and over a thousand were injured. As of April 7, 2024, rescuers were still looking for six people believed to be buried in the rubble.

"I've grown accustomed to (earthquakes). But today was the first time I was scared to tears by an earthquake," said Taipei resident Hsien-hsuen Keng. "I was awakened by the earthquake. I had never felt such intense shaking before."

The earthquake sent rocks from nearby mountains onto the highway (Credit: Taichung City Government'/ CC-BY-SA-2.0)

The death and injury toll were not trivial. However, they were very low in comparison to the aftermath of the 7.7 magnitude earthquake that shook Taiwan in 1999. The powerful tremor killed 2,400, injured over 11,000, and destroyed thousands of buildings.

The sharp reduction in fatalities is credited to the preemptive measures put in place since 1999. These include sensors that monitor seismic movements and send phone alerts to at-risk residents. The few precious minutes of advance notice most likely saved hundreds of lives on April 3. Additionally, officials hold annual earthquake drills to help residents know precisely what to do when an earthquake strikes.

Taiwan's strict building codes were another factor in the low fatality rate. The structures shook during the quake and in the subsequent aftershocks. However, even the buildings with the most damage stood standing, allowing residents to escape unscathed. Officials state that a majority of the fatalities were a result of the landslides near the mountains. Only one person died in a damaged residential building. In fact, within days of the quake, life in Hualien returned to almost normal, with many companies reopening for business.

90 percent of the world's earthquakes occur along the "Ring of Fire" (Credit: USGS/ Public Domain)

"Taiwan’s earthquake preparedness is among the most advanced in the world,” said Stephen Gao, a seismologist and professor at Missouri University of Science and Technology. "The island has implemented strict building codes, a world-class seismological network, and widespread public education campaigns on earthquake safety."

Earthquakes are relatively common in Taiwan due to its location along the "Ring of Fire." The 24,854 mile (40,000 km) horseshoe-shaped area on the edge of the Pacific plate is the biggest and most active of the nine tectonic plates that cover the Earth's surface. Over 90 percent of the world's earthquakes and 75 percent of volcano eruptions occur along its path.

Resources: VOA.com, Washingtonpost.com,Aljazeera.com