Taiwan hit by strongest earthquake since 1999


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Taiwan - Figure 1
Photo Financial Times

Taiwan experienced its most severe earthquake in nearly a quarter-century, resulting in the death of seven individuals and the injury of several hundred others. The quake caused infrastructure damage, including the destruction of buildings, the halting of rail transportation, and the displacement of those working at semiconductor manufacturing plants.

The earthquake that happened on Wednesday morning hit off the east coast, around 25km south of Hualien, a city with a population of around 100,000 people. Its magnitude was measured at 7.2 by Taiwan's earthquake monitoring agency and 7.4 by the US Geological Survey.

According to the Disaster Response Center of the government, seven individuals passed away and 821 others experienced injuries due to the earthquake. The fatalities occurred in Hualien and the nearby county, which suffered the most severe impact of the disaster.

Over 350 individuals were harmed in Taipei and New Taipei, which is the area surrounding the capital. As a result, both schools and work were put on hold for the day.

Taiwan - Figure 2
Photo Financial Times

According to the Disaster Management Center, there are still 127 individuals who are unable to escape their current location. A number of people found themselves stuck in tunnels located in Hualien due to landslides which made it impossible to travel along the 118km-long cliff road that is used to connect the northern area of the island.

The occurrence of the earthquake is likely to strengthen the western governments' feeling of importance in taking prompt action to ensure the safety of global technology supply chains by spreading out semiconductor creation away from Taiwan. Taiwan produces over 90 percent of the most sophisticated chips, which makes it even more crucial to diversify the production of such chips.

Although the chip plants across the country are situated on the western part of the island, which is far from the epicenter of the earthquake, some of the manufacturing processes were disrupted.

Taiwan - Figure 3
Photo Financial Times

Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co, which is currently the biggest manufacturer of contract chips in the world, removed some workers from certain factory locations.

TSMC confirmed that their safety systems are functioning properly, but they are still investigating the situation to gather more information. They decided to halt all construction work for the day in order to conduct more inspections.

The machines used to produce semiconductors are extremely delicate and are easily disrupted by unexpected events. In 1999, when a powerful earthquake measuring 7.6 hit Taiwan, TSMC's production was halted for an entire week, and this worsened the already existing shortages of electronic components at that time.

The most significant harm can arise when the loss of power results in equipment stoppages that are unregulated.

Local media reported that the management of Hsinchu Science Park, where TSMC has numerous factories, stated that the company, together with Powerchip, another manufacturer, decided to temporarily cease the operation of certain equipment as a preventive measure. However, there was no response from TSMC when asked to give a comment about the situation.

Taiwan - Figure 4
Photo Financial Times

The earthquake that occurred on Wednesday did not seem to be as severe as the one that happened in 1999. The previous earthquake affected areas with more people living in them and occurred during the night. Sadly, the 1999 earthquake resulted in the deaths of more than 2,000 people. It was also more powerful than any earthquake that had taken place since 1935 and caused serious harm to the production of computer chips.

The quake that occurred on Wednesday caused power outages for over 300,000 homes, but by 11:30am, the state-run Taiwan Power Company had restored electricity to the majority of those affected households.

In the afternoon, Formosa Petrochemical resumed its activities at the Mailiao port. This port is situated in one of the biggest refineries globally. They had temporarily put a stop to the operations due to the earthquake.

A caution for potential tsunami was given following the earthquake in Okinawa, a part of Japan's southern island. However, this caution was later lifted.

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