Major Taiwanese Earthquakes of the 20th Century

The island of Taiwan is located at a complex juncture between the Eurasian and Philippine Sea Plates. North and east of Taiwan, the Philippine Sea plate subducts beneath the Eurasian plate to the north along the Ryukyu trench, while south of the island the Eurasian plate underthrusts the Philippine Sea plate to the east along the Manila trench. Taiwan, therefore, occupies an unstable region between these two subduction systems of opposite polarity. Seismicity is extremely active on this island.

Taiwan can be divided into two major tectonic provinces, separated by a narrow, linear geographic feature known as the Longitudinal Valley. The western province, which comprises the major part of the island, is composed of Tertiary sediments that have undergone varying degrees of metamorphism and induration and is associated with the Eurasian continental shelf. Thus, tectonically, the Longitudinal Valley also assumes the role of a suture zone between the two plates. ¹

Most of Taiwan's seismicity is at this island's eastern side. The tectonic environment near Taiwan is unusually complicated: most of Taiwan is a collision zone between the Philippine Sea and Eurasian plates. This collision zone is bridged at the north by northwards subduction of the Philippine Sea plate beneath the Ryuku arc and, at the south, an eastwards thrusting at the Manila trench.²

Table of Contents

Taiwanese Earthquakes Since 1900 With 1,000 or More Deaths
3.16.1906 Chia-i Deaths: 1,250 Mag: 6.8 Tsunami/Fire: No
Over 6,000 houses destroyed. About 13 km (8 mi) of surface faulting, with maximum horizontal offset 2.4 m (8 ft) and vertical offset 1.8 m (6 ft). Aftershocks on Mar 26, Apr 6, 7 and 13 caused additional casualties and damage.
4.20.1935 Miao-li Deaths: 3,270 Mag: 7.1 Tsunami/Fire: No
More than 12,000 people injured and 39,000 rooms destroyed or severely damaged in the Hsin-chu-T'ai-chung (Shinchiku-Taichu) area. A railroad line subsided as much as 2 m (6 ft). Iron bridges were destroyed and tunnels were cracked. The quake was felt in most of Taiwan and at Fuzhou (Foochow), mainland China. Faulting was observed in two zones: the northern zone had predominantly vertical offsets of up to 3 m (10 ft) and the southern one had 1 to 1.5 m (3-5 ft) of horizontal displacement with up to 1 m vertical offset.
7.16.1935 Hsin-chu Deaths: 2,740 Mag: 6.5 Tsunami/Fire: No
More than 6,000 people injured and many thousand houses destroyed in the Hsin-chu area. It was felt as far away as Fuzhou (Foochow), mainland China. This is probably an aftershock of the April 20, 1935 quake.
9.20.1999 Taiwan Deaths: 2,400 Mag: 7.6 Landslide: Yes
At least 2,400 people killed, 8,700 injured, 600,000 people left homeless and about 82,000 housing units damaged by the earthquake and larger aftershocks. Damage estimated at 14 billion U.S. dollars. Maximum intensity (VI JMA) in Nan-tou and Tai-chung Counties. Half of a village was lost by subsidence into the Ta-an Hsi and landslides blocked the Ching-shui Hsi, creating a large lake. Two other lakes were created by substantial ground deformation near the epicenter. Surface faulting occurred along 75 km of the Chelungpu Fault. Felt (V JMA) at Chia-i and I-lan; (IV JMA) at Kao-hsiung, Taipei and Tai-tung; (IV JMA) on Lan Yu and Peng-hu Tao; (III JMA) at Hua-lien. Felt strongly in Fujian, Guangdong and Zhejiang Provinces. Felt (IV) in Hong Kong. Also felt (II JMA) on Iriomote-jima and Yonaguni-jima; (I JMA) on Ishigaki-jima and Miyako-jima, Ryukyu Islands. Complex earthquake. A small event is followed by a larger one about 11 seconds later.
To download table, please click here for PDF version (23kb).
From USGS Earthquake Hazards Program Earthquakes with 1,000 or More Deaths since 1900

Earthquake Resource Websites

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Taiwanese Disaster, Engineering, and Research Institutes

MCEER Publications

Additional details and purchasing information for each of these 13 technical reports is available through MCEER Publications.

  • The Chi-Chi Taiwan Earthquake of September 21, 1999: Reconnaissance Report
  • MCEER-00-0003
  • The 921 Chi-Chi, Taiwan Earthquake of 1999 Collection
  • MCEER-00-SP03
  • MCEER/NCREE Response: The 921 Taiwan Earthquake
  • MCEER-99-SPO3

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