A Richter scale 6.8 earthquake shook much of Taiwan at 9:02 p.m. yesterday, the biggest tremor to strike the island so far this year, the Central Weather Bureau reported. The epicenter of the quake was 25 kilometers southeast offshore the eastern city of Hualien, striking at a depth of 44.6 kilometers.
Buildings were shaking for about 20 seconds as far away as the capital Taipei in the northern part of the island.
In the city of Hualien a number of minor incidents were reported in the minutes after the quake.
"There were gas leaks and minor fires and people trapped in elevators," an official at the Hualien fire department said.
The fire department also said three people had sought medical help after feeling unwell due to the leakage of an unidentified substance.
Local TV reported that some Hualien residents were injured by falling rocks, and that windows were blown out in a Hualien hotel, with guests rushing out of the hotel in panic.
Local TV reported that a high-speed railway linking Taipei to the southern city of Kaohsiung had been suspended as a safety precaution.
But the mass raid transit systems in Taipei resumed operations at 9:19 p.m. after 17 minutes of suspension.
There were also TV reports of interruptions in the power supply in a northern district of Taipei.
At least four people in the capital had minor injuries, most resulting from falling water towers from the roofs of buildings, some cars were also damaged by the falling water towers.
Earthquakes frequently rattle Taiwan but most are minor and cause little or no damage.
However, a 7.6-magnitude earthquake in central Taiwan in 1999 killed more than 2,300 people.
And in 2006 a 6.7-magnitude tremor south of Kaohsiung severed undersea cables and disrupted telephone and Internet service to millions throughout Asia.