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“Life resumed immediately”: after the astonishment in Taiwan, the rapid return to normal of an island accustomed to earthquakes

Wednesday, at 7:58 a.

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“Life resumed immediately”: after the astonishment in Taiwan, the rapid return to normal of an island accustomed to earthquakes

Wednesday, at 7:58 a.m., Édouard is awakened in a way he will always remember. “The first image I have is my wife screaming next door and me being shaken with one leg out of bed.” An entrepreneur living in Taiwan for 16 years, the Frenchman describes the shock, then the fear that the old building in the capital in which he lives would not withstand the numerous aftershocks that followed. “We always fear that a second tremor will complete a building already weakened by the first…”

Also in Taipei, but passing through during a three-week trip, Lise says. “I was in a youth hostel, we were all sleeping. And then everything started to shake, including myself, I didn't understand at all what was happening,” she confides, adding that she really believed that she was going to die, she who had never lived the feeling of an earthquake. “It felt like someone was taking the building and shaking it all over the place.”

At least nine people died and more than 1,000 others were injured in Taiwan, authorities announced the same evening. With a magnitude greater than 7, the earthquake is the most powerful to hit the island in 25 years. “Taiwanese people told me that even for them it was very intense,” Lise also reports. At the moment, the Frenchwoman is petrified. She ends up going out into the street. “It was strange, it didn’t feel like there had been a powerful earthquake 10 minutes before.”

Because very quickly after the earthquake, “life resumed immediately,” also observes Louis, an engineer in a semiconductor company. The 30-year-old was teleworking in his apartment on the 9th floor when the first tremor hit the island.

“The higher you live, the more important the feeling,” he says. “I was going to take my shower when the doors started to open, the dehumidifier started running around the apartment, and above all, the scaffolding outside started to scream.” Everything vibrates, everything trembles. Noise saturates the space. “It was a very strange feeling.” Despite everything, once the tremors passed, “people went back to work,” he adds, explaining that his wife quickly went to her workplace despite the temporary interruption of the metro lines.

“The buses and taxis were full,” says Zacharie, 34, who has been in Taiwan for 7 years as a chef. The metro stopped for about an hour, he explains. But overall, the situation quickly returned to normal. “My Taiwanese roommates, for whom earthquakes are common, had a good scare despite everything,” he admits.

“Even if it is much more frightening than a typhoon, because you are insecure even in your own home, the Taiwanese are used to it,” says Rémi, a Frenchman who has lived on the island for 18 years, who now has Taiwanese nationality and is based on the west coast. “We certainly didn’t receive any this time but usually the government sends SMS alerts a few moments before,” he says. “A debate has also begun to emerge on the issue, fueled mainly by the opposition parties.” However, the prevention work and the preparation of the population remain remarkable.

The one who runs a travel show on public service television explains: "there was the earthquake that locals call '9.21', the one of September 21, 1999 which triggered a turning point in terms of infrastructure which is today now much more resistant. That day, a 7.6 magnitude earthquake killed 2,400 people, the worst disaster in Taiwan's modern history.

Today, the island has limited damage, even on the east coast, much closer to the epicenter on Wednesday. “From the first shock I told myself that it was a very big earthquake, and I quickly thought of Hualien where I lived for 2 years.” Wilder, less urbanized and more steep, the coastline facing the Pacific, where the Eurasian plate and the Philippine Sea plate meet, is more exposed, for example, to landslides.

“We saw two buildings collapse and it’s true that it was very impressive,” says Yalun Ho, a resident of Hualien. This mother, married to a Frenchman, took her 8-year-old son to school on a scooter. “My son had had an exercise the day before, he was much calmer than me,” she smiles. “But I was in shock,” she admits, confiding that she did not experience the 1999 earthquake, being abroad at the time. “And then, there was a response every fifteen minutes in the morning, one then last night, and one again today, five minutes before we called each other. The earth is moving, it makes you seasick.”

But finally, even on the east coast, transport resumed this morning. “Sometimes, the Taiwanese lack organization,” says Édouard, “but here it’s quite impressive: even in the metro, no one was running, no one was shouting.” “One of the two buildings that fell has even already been demolished,” Yalun Ho also reports. “For an earthquake of magnitude 7, we are very lucky,” she concludes, referring to recent devastating earthquakes like the one in Turkey.

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