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Resilient Taiwan responded fast to earthquake after years honing skills By Reuters

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By Yimou Lee

HUALIEN, Taiwan (Reuters) – When a 7.2 magnitude earthquake hit Taiwan’s scenic and largely rural east coast county of Hualien on Wednesday, local official Chang Tung-yao knew exactly what to do, having experienced a similar temblor six years before.

Within two hours of the quake, which struck just before 8 a.m. (0000 GMT) as people were getting ready for work, Chang said an emergency shelter was arranged at a nearby school where more than 130 residents ended up spending the night.

“Joined-up contact with government departments was key,” Chang, a neighbourhood chief, the lowest level of elected official in Taiwan, told Reuters.

Since the 2018 earthquake of magnitude 6.4, in which seven people died, Chang said local authorities have strengthened coordination with government units and non-governmental organisations for disaster response and relief. 

This time, county officials and police along with other units who helped evacuate residents in affected areas of downtown Hualien city worked together to clear one of the damaged buildings before it could collapse in any aftershocks.

“Everyone is doing their job. The county government and the local administrative office worked together to minimise the damage as much as possible,” Chang said.

WHY IS TAIWAN SO PRONE TO EARTHQUAKES?

Taiwan is no stranger to earthquakes, being located near the junction of two tectonic plates, and many are concentrated along the picturesque, mainly rural and sparsely populated east coast. The region is also a major draw for tourists with its rugged mountains, hot spring resorts and tranquil farms.

More than 100 people were killed in an earthquake in southern Taiwan in 2016, while a 7.3 magnitude quake killed more than 2,000 people in 1999.

That 1999 quake, commonly referred to as the “921 quake” as it hit on Sept. 21, was a spur for the government to revise building codes and strengthen disaster management laws.

Sept. 21 is now a designated day for Taiwan-wide disaster drills and on this day mock alert messages for disasters such as earthquake and tsunami are sent to people’s mobile phones, and schools around the island stage evacuation drills.

Yet Tai Yun-fa, a structural engineer who runs Taiwan’s Alfa Safe that develops quake-resistant building materials, said that while a tightening of building codes had helped better prepare the island for disaster, some developers were still cutting corners.

“The focus when it comes to development is still the lowest price,…

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