So, Earthquakes, they are kind of a thing that can happen. More specifically Earthquakes are ‘a thing that can happen’ quite a lot in Taiwan, in fact Earthquakes are considered a pretty common feature of Taiwan. Now if you are like me you probably already knew that, (I mean duh, Taiwan is near the ring of fire which is famous for tectonic activity making the area commonplace for earthquakes, Tsunamis and flooding). Somewhere in the deep recesses of my mind this information was all present and available. However, that didn’t stop me from being underprepared, surprised and in state of bewilderment when I was actually in an earthquake the actual event took place.
For those of you who don’t know, during February Taiwan was hit by a quite powerful earthquake. At the time It was all over the news and got quite a large amount of global media coverage. Needless to say, at the time my phone was flooded by messages from family checking that I wasn’t dead which was really sweet. For those of you interested the Earthquake measured a 6.4 on the moment magnitude scale meaning it was classified as ‘’severe’’ (considerable damage to ordinary buildings). Sadly 17 people lost their lives in the event and another 285 were injured. The epicentre of the event was in Hualien, which is roughly 100 miles away from Taipei (where I live). So, I was luckily spared the worst of it as it not nearly as powerful as it was in Hualien. However, although we were 100 miles away we definitely still felt it here in Taipei.
My experience was as follows:
A group of friends and I were sitting in the library minding our own business getting on with essay work. When all of a sudden over the speaker system a bunch of orders were sharply read out in Chinese. Then as soon as the announcement was over all of students started packing up their things into their backpacks and swiftly moving under their desks and getting into a foetal position. We were quite puzzled until one of the locals closest to us, looked over and said one word ‘earthquake’. We then quite awkwardly and hurriedly packed up our books and also got under the desk we were working at. Almost as soon as we had gotten under the table a siren began to ring out over the intercom and the ground began to vibrate and shake quite violently, we saw a few fixed lamps fall from the ceiling smashing on the ground spraying some glass around. The shaking went on for only about a minute maximum. Then it was over, we could tell because the siren ended and an announcement came back over the intercom. From this point people began getting up from under their desks, those near the broken glass left, others just simply went back to work as if nothing had really happened. If I hadn’t have literally just sat through an earthquake, it would have been difficult to tell as if it had just happened, the locals were just in general so un-phased by it. However, I guess to them earthquakes are just normal in the same way that snow is normal to us in the west, its just something that happens from time to time. Obviously the very human response is that eventually you just get used to it.
Proceeding the event there were a few main points of note that occurred. The first was the aftershocks, aftershocks tend to be much weaker and quite numerous. Thus, the ones we got were just considered trembling’s meaning that they were much more stable and didn’t get a siren or an announcement, instead just a little pop up on your phone, these aftershocks really just caused the rooms to shake a little Sadly it was during one of these aftershocks that I was in a Starbucks and I ended up spilling my hot tea all over myself.
The second major point of note was the damage to infrastructure. Again, although not nearly as catastrophic and dire as the damage that occurred in Hualien, there was still minor damage to Taipei. So, for a few weeks afterwards there were roaming power cuts (due to electricity pylon damage), constant road works due to road and drain damage and parts of the MRT (underground trains service) were temporarily shut down due to minor tunnel damage (minor tunnel collapse). The third was the response of the university to us exchange students. As most of us came from Europe, it became clear that we didn’t really know what to do in the cases of earthquakes except to hide in doorways and under tables. So, a lecture was provided for us to learn where to go (emergency service centres) and what the general protocols and procedures are here in Taiwan for earthquakes (I mean that’s pretty accurate I’ve never really thought about earthquakes prior to this event, and I certainly didn’t really know where or what the protocols are). So, I now know where the closest earthquake emergency relief centre is as well as what I should try to do in such an event.
Overall, I’d say earthquakes are a bit like snow in Britain. It’s a regional thing, that is closely associated with certain parts of the world. It can be incredibly dangerous, effecting infrastructure and general services and the environment. It is something that as a foreigner, unless you are from a nearby area, you aren’t really prepared for or used to. However, it’s something that the locals of the region are used to and well prepared for. So much so that to many Taiwanese here in Taipei the earthquake was nothing more than something that just happens from time to time.