An earthquake

The third earthquake I’ve felt in Taiwan, and by far the most serious…

Photo of TVBS news coverage of the 2024 Hualien Earthquake in Taiwan.
TV news coverage of this morning’s earthquake. Photo: Zhen-Kang.

I was woken by today’s M7.2 earthquake. I live on the south-west coast of Taiwan, 190km from the epicenter in the east.

(For context, Taiwan is ¼ the size of Te Waipounamu/New Zealand’s South Island, with 24 times the population.)

I got off extremely lightly: Steve + Ned fell off my bookcase, and a hanging lamp detached, but didn’t fall, from the ceiling.

In bed, in my 7th floor apartment, I was bobbing on a swirling sea. I experienced more lateral and vertical movement than I’ve felt in any other earthquake.

I vaguely remember jumping on a waterbed as a kid, then immediately lying down to ride the waves. It was like that for two minutes.

(The building continued to sway once the shaking stopped. Due to aftershocks, I was swaying gently-but-almost-continuously for the first couple of hours.)

MFAT says there are 136 other New Zealanders registered as being in Taiwan.

Via the NZ Herald, RNZ, and Stuff, here are some of their reports:

  • “It was long and intense. I think it probably went on for about a minute... it was really terrifying.” — Delphine Herbert in Taipei.
  • “Even though we were approx 150km from the epicenter it was still very aggressive in our hotel. We had to hang onto the walls to stay on our feet… It was definitely scary being in a taller building when something like this hits.” — Paul Rowland in Taipei.
  • “It was the biggest earthquake I have ever felt. Our entire apartment on the 11th floor was shaking violently.” — Nick van Halderen in Taipei.
  • “It seemed to last a full minute and was by far the worst I’ve experienced.” — Peter Watson in Kaohsiung.

Here’s some video I took while bouncing around:


The middle of the three lamps is now hanging a little lower.

I’ve been told that during an earthquake, it’s wise to open your apartment door so you don’t get trapped inside—but in my groggy morning state, I was in no condition to greet my neighbors. Luckily the door still works fine.

Taiwanese friends were quick to check in. Some had briefly lost contact with family members due to power and internet outages.

My preparations for last year’s typhoons meant I had plenty of supplies. I just hoped the power would stay on, so I could:

  1. Flush the toilet
  2. Enjoy air conditioning
  3. Flush the toilet
  4. Flush the toilet
  5. Flush the toilet

(The government recommends “smart toilet” owners keep a couple of buckets handy, in case of power outages. Thankfully, it didn’t come to that.)

On LINE, friends forwarded me clips from Taiwanese social media. This was useful, as Taiwan’s English-language news sources didn’t carry live updates. I learned more from the Guardian and the BBC.

Obviously any natural disaster is awful, but this one felt additionally visceral as I saw collapsed buildings and tunnels in areas where I was riding my scooter three months ago.

The spectacular road from Hualien to Yilan is impassable now. In places, it no longer exists.

Here’s a photo I took in January:

Photo of a road carved into a steep cliff-face, above the sea, on Taiwan’s east coast.

And the here’s the same road today:

TVBS news footage of a collapsed bridge at the entrance to a road tunnel near Hualien, Taiwan.

But, as ever, I am impressed by the Taiwanese people around me. Looking out the window, I saw people stop while their scooters swayed on the moving ground, then casually resume driving—around a burst water pipe—as soon as the swaying stopped.

Three hours later, the pipe was already being repaired:

Construction crew repairing a broken water pipe at a six-lane intersection in Kaohsiung, Taiwan.

I’m safe, and I feel safe, here in Taiwan.