Shaky Start to the Chinese New Year

by Henry Wong

Chinese New Year is not the same this year as a 6.4 magnitude earthquake hit Tainan, Taiwan, on February 6, just two days before the first day of the New Year. The most deaths occurred after the collapse of the 16-story Jinlong high-rise building on Yongda Road. Forty earthquake deaths were reported, 24 of those were killed in the building collapse while 120 are still missing. Intact nearby buildings have been converted into makeshift meeting spots and resting places for rescuers. Over 500 were injured and ninety-two remain hospitalized as of February 7.

Earthquakes are a common occurrence in Taiwan as it is located in an area with lots of seismic activity known as the “Pacific Ring of Fire.” There are 42 active faults on the island but most earthquakes are caused by collisions of the Philippine Sea Plate and the Eurasian Plate. Many buildings in Taiwan were designed to withstand these frequent earthquakes as Taipei 101 (Taiwan’s tallest skyscraper) is equipped with a 728-ton pendulum to counteract the sways in the building during intense winds or an earthquake. Unfortunately, Jinlong high-rise was not built with these same precautions in mind. In fact, an investigation of the building’s collapse is underway as tin cans have been discovered imbedded in  the walls of the highrise. It is suspected that the cans were used as construction fillers in beams which, prior to September of 1999, were not illegal and are unlike the styrofoam and formwork boards used instead in present day construction.

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