At least nine people died and 900 injured in Taiwan on Wednesday, according to a new report from the authorities, in an earthquake of magnitude greater than 7 which also damaged dozens of buildings, the most powerful to hit the island in 25 years.

All the deaths occurred in the Hualien region, near the epicenter of the earthquake in the east of the island, the national fire agency said.

Three of the victims died on a hiking trail, crushed by rocks. A truck driver was killed in a landslide while approaching a tunnel.

The agency, which did not immediately detail the circumstances of the other deaths, revised the number of people injured upwards to 946, without specifying the seriousness of the injuries.

The magnitude of the underwater earthquake was estimated at 7.5 by the Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA), 7.4 by the United States Geological Survey (USGS) and 7.2 by the meteorological agency Taiwanese (CWA).

It occurred shortly before 00:00 GMT, according to these agencies, followed by several aftershocks. Its epicenter was located at shallow depths off the eastern coast of Taiwan.

“My home shook violently, the paintings on the wall, my television and my bar fell,” a Hualien resident told SET TV.

Strict construction rules and good preparation for natural disasters, however, seem to have made it possible to avoid a major catastrophe for the island, which is regularly hit by earthquakes.

Local television showed multi-story buildings in Hualien and elsewhere tilting dangerously from the quake, while a warehouse in New Taipei Municipality collapsed.

The city's mayor said more than 50 survivors had been pulled from the ruins.

“We were very lucky,” reacted a resident living near this warehouse. “A lot of decorations at home fell to the ground, but people are safe.”

Activity at some factories at Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC), the world's largest chipmaker, was briefly interrupted, a company official told AFP.

– Tsunami alerts lifted –

Bulldozers were mobilized to clear rocks blocking roads to Hualien, a coastal town surrounded by mountains of some 100,000 inhabitants, according to images broadcast by local channels.

Main roads leading to the city pass through numerous tunnels and authorities fear motorists could be trapped inside.

“We need to carefully check how many people are trapped and we need to rescue them quickly,” Vice President Lai Ching-te, set to become Taiwan's new president in May, told reporters.

Dozens of miners were also out of reach of help at a quarry in Hualien.

Current President Tsai Ing-wen has ordered local and central government agencies to coordinate and announced that the military will provide support.

The main railway line linking the capital Taipei to the south along the eastern coast was cut in several places and was being repaired.

The earthquake initially triggered tsunami warnings in Taiwan, the southwestern islands of Japan and several provinces in the Philippines, where people in coastal areas were urged to seek higher ground.

Japanese and Philippine authorities finally lifted their alerts, and the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center, a regional observatory based in Hawaii (United States), announced around 02:00 GMT that “the tsunami threat has now largely passed.” , while calling on residents of coastal regions to remain cautious.

Naha airport, the largest on the Japanese island of Okinawa, has temporarily suspended air traffic.

– Shake felt in China –

“The earthquake is close to the coast and shallow. It is felt throughout Taiwan and neighboring islands… It is the strongest in 25 years, since the 1999 earthquake,” the quake told reporters. director of the Taipei Seismological Center, Wu Chien-fu.

In September 1999, a 7.6 magnitude earthquake killed 2,400 people, the worst disaster in Taiwan's modern history.

Across the Formosa Strait, residents in eastern China's Fujian province and other areas reported on social media that they also felt strong tremors.

China, which considers Taiwan to be part of its territory, said it was observing the earthquake “very carefully” and said it was “ready to provide aid to the victims”, according to the national news agency New China.

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