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Taiwan Starts Earthquake Clean-Up

Maintenance crews began clearing the rubble from a southern Taiwanese town Wednesday, hours after a powerful earthquake struck the area, killing two and triggering a regional tsunami alert.
( [email protected] ) Dec 27, 2006 03:33 PM EST

TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) -- Maintenance crews began clearing the rubble from a southern Taiwanese town Wednesday, hours after a powerful earthquake struck the area, killing two and triggering a regional tsunami alert.

The quake, which hit late Tuesday just offshore from the Pingtung County township of Hengchun, came on the second anniversary of the devastating tsunami that took more than 200,000 lives in southern Asia.

Two members of one family were killed in the town when their four-story home collapsed. Six other members of the family were rescued from under the rubble early Wednesday, the National Fire Agency said in a statement.

One member of the family -- an 89-year old man -- escaped from the building unharmed.

A total of 42 people were injured in southern Taiwan, the fire agency said. Three houses collapsed and 12 fires broke out, apparently caused by downed power cables.

The power supply to 3,000 homes was disrupted, but was later restored, according to the agency.

Chunghwa Telecom said the damaged cable interrupted communications with Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and Hong Kong. Communications with China were also cut off because calls to the mainland from Taiwan are routed through Hong Kong.

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.

Aftershocks of more than magnitude 5.0 were still likely within a week, said Lu Pei-ling, a spokeswoman for the weather bureau.

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."

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 capital, Taipei, in the northern part of the island.

Several high-rise hotels swayed violently in the southern city of Kaohsiung, the CTI Cable News reported.

Liao Ching-ling, a manager at the city'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 Taiwan's southern tip, 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 volcanoes 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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