TAIPEI, Taiwan, Sept. 21 -- The death toll of the worst-ever earthquake, which shook central Taiwan Monday, rose to over 1,500, officials of the national disaster rescue center reported today. Monday's powerful quake, described as the most devastating tremor to hit Taiwan this century, shook Nantou, a mountainous town in central Taiwan in the early hours, with a intensity of 7.6 on the Richter scale, injuring more than 3,800 people across Taiwan, and sending frightened people into the streets. Rescue officials said more than 1,000 others were trapped inside collapsed buildings and houses. Around 200 local residents were reported missing. The earthquake damaged hundreds of houses and tall buildings and created power blackouts in most parts of Taiwan until late Monday. Many people were reported to have been trapped inside elevators. There also are reports of several fires caused by candles. Nantou and Chih Chih, a township in the central highlands area, were the hardest hit locations. Victims' remains were laid on streets. Several bridges in the area were destroyed, cutting off traffic in the region. Taiwan President Lee Teng-hui, accompanied by Premier Vincent Siew, flew to the disaster areas in Nantou and Puli in central Taiwan. According to officials at the central weather bureau's earthquake department, more than 1,300 aftershocks were recorded after the major tremor had rocked Taiwan at 1:47 a.m. local time (1747 GMT). Two strong after shocks measuring 6.4 and 5.5 on the Richter scale were reported at 5:46 a.m. and 6:22 a.m. local time (2146 GMT and 2222 GMT).
The central weather bureau official warned that strong aftershocks are likely during the next couple of weeks. He said the quake was most likely attributable to undersea plates between the Philippines and Taiwan as the cause of the quake. Housing construction architects are being urged to serve as volunteers to help check the extent of damage of house structures. Government officials said U.S. President Bill Clinton has sent a message to convey his sympathy over the quake disaster. They add that a U.S. rescue team will arrive in Taipei shortly on a mercy relief mission. Japan, Russia and China also expressed concerns and China offered any necessary assistance. James Soong, the first and last openly elected governor of Taiwan, temporarily suspended his presidential election activities. He is one of four presidential candidates for the 2000 election. One survivor of a 12-story building, which partially collapsed and trapped more than 100 persons in the early hours, told reporters, 'After several severe shakings, the building suddenly falls down, and all are in darkness.' Many survivors from worst area spoke with trembling voices, after they were rescued. Rescue officials said that in 1935 a powerful 7.1 quake hit Hsinzhu in northern Taiwan, killing over 3,000 people, injuring more than 12,000 others, and destroying over 29,000 houses. It was the second destructive quake listed by thecentral weather bureau. Meanwhile, Defense Minister Gen. Tang Fei said members of Taiwan's armed forces were deployed to help rescue the victims and their families. Many were made homeless. ---
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