Two Canadians stranded by Taiwan earthquake, says firefighting agency



TAIPEI, Taiwan — Canadian English teacher Jonathan McGill said the shaking from Taiwan’s largest earthquake in 25 years was so forceful that he thought his apartment building might collapse.

McGill, a former Ottawa resident who has been living in Hsinchu, Taiwan, for the last seven years, described the quake Wednesday as something he has never felt before, with his ceiling fan swaying about 30 centimetres off its axis.

“Today was the first time I ever thought to myself, what is the breaking point basically of a building?” he said. “Because it’s not supposed to really do that. 

“Obviously, they’re built to withstand some kind of shaking. But it was going pretty bad side-to-side, and it makes you really start to wonder, is it going to get to the point where it’ll fall down?”

Taiwan’s Central Emergency Operations Centre said the earthquake was centred off Hualien County, about 150 kilometres south of Taipei, and reached a magnitude of 7.2, leaving at least nine dead, 946 injured and 152 stranded in its aftermath.

Local firefighters said on a Facebook post that two Canadians were among a group of 12 people stranded by rock slides on a trail in Taroko National Park, a renowned hiking destination, and rescue efforts were ongoing.

Canadians in Taiwan described scenes of chaos and violent shaking that shifted furniture and almost knocked people off their feet during the quake that struck during the Wednesday morning rush hour.

Vancouver-based community events organizer Charlie Wu said his rented 12th-floor apartment in the Taiwanese capital of Taipei shook for “what seemed like minutes,” knocking bottles and plates out of their closed cabinets.

Wu said he could also hear the sounds of glass breaking from several other units in the building, and a number of strong after shocks knocked several items he placed back on shelves to the floor again.

“It’s like getting off the cruise ship,” Wu said of his mental state after the quake. “There’s that feeling (that) you’re not really grounded. It’s like everything is moving and you’re looking at the curtain (to see) if it’s moving or just you in your head, that you’re moving.

“I still feel the occasional (aftershock), quick and much smaller than what it was this morning. But, again, when you were on (the) 12th floor, it’s easily felt, and I don’t know if I’m going to be able to sleep well with that feeling in my head.”

Tech firm employee Yvonne Chen, who splits her time between Burnaby, B.C., and Taipei, said the shaking on her 10th-floor apartment shifted a large cabinet 15 centimetres off its base, and she had to crouch to prevent herself from falling over.

Chen said the quake was mild when it started and she continued to get ready for her commute to work, until the shaking grew more powerful.

“It got to a point where I couldn’t stand, and I had to crouch down,” she said in an interview in Mandarin, estimating the shaking to have lasted about a minute.

Chen said she tried to go to work afterwards, but Taipei’s transit rail systems were not operating, while her office building lost power and suffered a broken pipe, resulting in flooding on the first floor. 

“Even now, sitting in a chair, I’m nervous and feeling things move all the time,“ she said. “I have to ask myself, am I being too sensitive? Am I imagining this?”

Both Chen and Wu said the shaking was comparable to the 1999 earthquake in Taiwan that was 7.3 in magnitude, killed more than 2,400 people and destroyed about 52,000 buildings.

Global Affairs Canada said in a statement that any Canadians in need of aid should contact them immediately, adding that there are 5,518 registered Canadian citizens in Taiwan.

Angel Liu, director general of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office, Taiwan’s de facto consulate in Vancouver, said she had a restless night after being overwhelmed with videos and images of heavy infrastructure damage on her social media feed.

“Taiwan is located in (an) earthquake frequency area, so we are very experienced in dealing with this kind of natural disaster,” Liu said. “But it is still very hard to recover in just a short time.

“Let’s hope for the best there is minimum loss of lives,” Liu said, crossing her fingers.

A number of Canadian leaders expressed support for Taiwan, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and British Columbia Premier David Eby, the latter taking to social media platform X to express his condolences.

“I’m advised there is no threat to B.C.,” Eby said in the post, referring to a possible tsunami. “But I know many with family in Taiwan are concerned for the safety of their loved ones.”

Trudeau said Canada had reached out to Taiwanese officials and was ready to provide support if needed.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 3, 2024.

The Canadian Press