|EARTHQUAKE IN TAIWAN|
September 21, 1999
JIM LEHRER: Our earthquake coverage begins with this report from Tom Bradby of Independent Television News.
TOM BRADBY, ITN: Taiwan is used to earthquakes, but not like this. It struck in the middle of the night, and those who survived stumbled half-naked and dazed from the wreckage. This is one of the most modern cities in Asia, and it showed. Emergency services moved quickly and worked all night rescuing the old and the young, and always looking for signs of life in the dark. Those who were safe could only watch in shock as the search went on for loved ones who remained beneath the rubble, imprisoned with their fear.
By dawn, the picture was clearer. The worst damage was around the epicenter of the quake near the central City of Tai-Chung, where some new apartment blocks had simply toppled over. The Taiwanese government says the cost could reach more than 2 billion pounds, but it's too early to say definitively. The damage is clear for all to see. All day the rescue efforts have continued-- teams of sniffer dogs moving through the rubble. And all day people have been brought out alive. And there's been another problem. All across Taiwan, exposed electrical wires have sparked fires. At this apartment and hotel complex in the center of the capital, Taipei, tonight the fire service was continuously dousing the wreckage to prevent more fires breaking out.
|A sad day|
JIM LEHRER: Elizabeth Farnsworth has more.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And we go now to Stephen Chen, the representative of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Washington, which, in the absence of formal diplomatic relations, serves as Taiwan's diplomatic headquarters in the United States; and Robert Wesson, a research geophysicist at the U.S. Geological Survey.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Steven Chen, my condolences for the losses in Taiwan and please bring us up to date on what you are hearing.
STEPHEN CHEN: It is a sad day in history of my country. At last count over 1,700 people have died, over 4,000 people have been injured and around 1,000 people are still trapped. Many people more are missing --about 30,000 houses collapsed. The total amount of losses and of damages in properties would amount to easily $100 billion. So that is a tremendous loss to our lives and property, but I want to tell this audience that there is no panic in this society. There is an outpouring of love and solidarity from people trying to help other people. I also want to express our sincere appreciation for -- to the American government for their offer of assistance; to President and Mrs. Clinton for their statement of sympathy and their condolence issued yesterday. In fact 14 of 85 rescue members are on their way to Taipei to help in the rescue and recovery work.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Mr. Chen, what do you need most right now?
STEPHEN CHEN: I think we need most not food, clothing, medicine or tents or blankets. Those we have. What we need most is expertise in the actual rescue and recovery work of those people who have had experience in handling earthquake of such a magnitude as happened in Japan a few years back.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Is that en route as far as you know- are people - I know the U.S. has sent a team, are you getting enough help?
STEPHEN CHEN: This is a very good example of help and we're getting from other countries as well. For example, Japan, Singapore, Germany, Switzerland, even Russia will be sending teams. In addition Great Britain, Israel, South Korea and Thailand have all expressed a willingness to provide assistance.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And China too, Jiang Zemin wrote, right?
STEPHEN CHEN: According to the press the PRC has offered $100,000 in aid and $500,000 worth of goods. We considered that as a humanitarian aid and we will accept that because we have done that before in much higher quantities in the relief of natural disasters in the past.
|Movement of the Philippine Sea Plate|
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Mr. Chen, don't go away. I want to come back to you but I want to get more information about the earthquake now. Robert Wesson, tell us about this earthquake.
ROBERT WESSON: This tragic earthquake has about a magnitude 7.6 as we mentioned. It is caused by the movement, the actual movement of the Philippine Sea Plate, which is the westernmost part of the Pacific Ocean, and that is moving northwestward relative to Eurasia. For most of that, the boundary between the Philippine Sea Plate and the Eurasian Plate, the Philippine Sea Plate slides underneath the Eurasian Plate. And that is what occurs along the Southeast coast of Japan. But right at the corner where the Philippine Sea Plate is smashing into the Eurasia Plate is the Island of Taiwan. And, in fact, that's why the island of Taiwan is there. It's because there is this compression shun between these two plates. And it's resulted in a mountain range along the Island of Taiwan called the Central Mountains, and there is a series -- most of the big earthquakes in Taiwan are actually along the East Coast, but this earthquake was on the western side of the island and there is a series of thrust faults that -- along which part of that compression is accommodated.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And, Mr. Wesson, the numbers don't tell the whole stories, right? Aren't there other factors at play like how deep the earthquake occurred?
ROBERT WESSON: That's right, Elizabeth. This is a relatively shallow earthquake as was the quake in Turkey last month, and most of the big earthquakes in Taiwan tend to be a little bit deeper and a little bit further to the East. This earthquake -- because it's shallow and because it's to the West side of the island -- is closer to the populated area and so the shaking from this earthquake was quite strong. This earthquake was about the same distance from the big City of Taipei as the Loma Prietta earthquake was from San Francisco or the Turkish earthquake was from the City of Istanbul but these earthquakes are close enough to the big cities that they can really cause serious and tragic damage.
|The epicenter in central Taiwan|
|ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And Steven Chen, as we heard in the
ITN report the worst damage was South of Taipei. Tell us about that area
and how many towns and villages were really terribly hard hit.
STEVEN CHEN: Okay. The epicenter is in central Taiwan. That is why the Taichung County and Taichung City which are located in central Taiwan are the hardest hit. So, in comparison, Taipei City, which is about 100 miles from the epicenter, is relatively light in the casualties and the damages of properties.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: These are relatively new cities, right, these were relatively new buildings, many of the buildings that fell?
STEPHEN CHEN: Actually no, because the new buildings have observed building codes. I think those collapsed are older buildings that were built before the stricter building codes were enacted.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Are you able to get help into this area? We read about terribly collapsed bridges and roads.
STEPHEN CHEN: All agencies, all government agencies are out in the rescue and the relief operations. As far as I know, only one major bridge has collapsed. The main road, expressway -- north and south expressway and railroad and airport and harbor are intact. So air services -- as well as shipping services to and from Taiwan -- have not been disrupted. And I want to tell my American friends that among the casualties, no Americans have been listed. So they will find some comfort knowing that their friends, relatives are safe in this catastrophe.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And, Mr. Chen, have you been able to get word about your own family and your friends?
STEPHEN CHEN: I haven't been able to reach my family since last night because all cities have been occupied. But I want it tell you a human interest story. One of my colleagues called his father and his father said the entrance to his apartment was blocked by the wall of a fallen building next store, so he called his classmate and this classmate of his rushed to the scene and removed the obstacle to the entrance of the apartment immediately. So you see, people have been trying to help other people over the island. There is no panic and rescue and recovery operations are going on smoothly.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Well, Mr. Chen, I hope you find your family and you find them well.
STEPHEN CHEN: Thank you.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Mr. Wesson, just briefly there are aftershocks occurring all the time, right? These are, these are earthquakes themselves?
ROBERT WESSON: That's right, and this earthquake has had at least through a couple of hours ago four earthquakes that were near magnitude 6. Those earthquakes, those aftershocks are big enough to cause damage themselves.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: All right, well, thank you both very much for being with us.
STEPHEN CHEN: Thank you.