A magnitude-7.8 earthquake turned the nation of Nepal into a disaster zone on April 25, causing severe devastation throughout the region. Many of Nepal’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites were flattened and now lay in piles of brick and dust – unique pieces of history lost forever. Even worse than the destruction of these historic landmarks is the tragic loss of life. Nearly two weeks after the first seismic event, the death toll is well over 8,000 – and the amount of people without suitable shelter is utterly overwhelming. Although international aid is pouring in to the Himalayan country, food and water, tents, and medicine are still in short supply for the hundreds of thousands who survived the quake. With poor infrastructure and an inept government, the future of the Nepalese is bleak. To be there today must seem like a living nightmare.
My heart goes out to the people who are affected by this catastrophe. And my mind goes back to my recent trip to Taiwan, another country that has been shaken deeply by earthquakes.
Taiwan, the mountainous island off the coast of China, is no stranger to earth shaking events. According to the Central Weather Bureau, Taiwan experiences an average of over 18,000 earthquakes each year; approximately 1,000 of those are perceptible to the population. Since the beginning of the 20th century, Taiwan has experienced 96 extremely destructive earthquakes.
The most catastrophic earthquake that caused the most disastrous damage in Taiwan occurred at 01:47 am on September 21 of 1999 – the Nantou Jiji (Chi-Chi) Earthquake. Its epicenter was located at 9 kilometers west of the Sun Moon Lake, positioned at 23.9 N in latitude, and 120.8 E in longitude. The Chelungpu Fault and the Shuangdong Fault formed the surface rupture zone which was approximately 100 kilometers in length with the maximum horizontal displacement of 7 meters and maximum vertical displacement of 4 meters. This earthquake resulted in 2,456 deaths, 10,718 injured, 53,661 houses fully destroyed, and 53,024 houses damaged.
Overnight, the 921 Earthquake caused the terrain of Taiwan to change dramatically, and as you travel throughout Taiwan today, you can observe how the forces of nature lifted up sections of once-flat cityscapes and twisted straight railways into curvy lines of metal, as illustrated in the photographs above. During my Taiwan Travels, I visited several 921 memorial sites located in Taichung City and Nantou County, where I witnessed the power of a magnitude-7.3 earthquake.
The 921 Earthquake Museum of Taiwan
Located in the Wufeng District outside of Taichung City, the 921 Earthquake Museum of Taiwan was a former high school that serves a new educational purpose: to remind local children, families, and international visitors alike of the potential power contained underneath the surface of the earth. With its meaningful architecture, informative exhibits and interactive displays, the museum is quite excellent. However, its most astonishing features are found in the ruins of the collapsed classroom buildings and the raised sections of the track field, where the fault line can be seen splitting the ground open and upwards.
The Shih-Gang Dam
Not far from Fengyuan City, another example of the damage caused by the 921 Quake remains. Veering off its projected course, the fault line cut across the Dajia River and raised the northern end of the Shih-Gang dam by 12.3 meters (40 feet). Today, the area has been turned into a memorial park.
The Collapsed Wuchang Temple
The jumbled remains of the Wuchang Temple sit quietly behind a larger and newer temple in Jiji, the town in Nantou County that was closest to the epicenter. The entire first floor was crushed by the upper levels of the temple as it came crashing down in the night. Visitors can take a close look at the wreckage caused by the 921 Earthquake.
While these sites are meant to remind the Taiwanese of the danger that comes with living in a seismically active zone, they reminded me of how our humanity is formed not by the strength of our construction but by the strength of our character.
While the people of Taiwan did suffer greatly from the 921 Earthquake, it is already apparent that the Nepalese will endure much worse conditions. (This TIME article gives some insight into the long-term affects of the cataclysmic tremors.) In the midst of complete destruction and destitution, it is my sincere prayer that the people of Nepal will remain strong of character and have hope for the future.
Hey readers! Have you or someone you know been affected by a natural disaster like the earthquakes in Nepal and Taiwan? Are you following the news reports coming in from Nepal? Do you know of ways to help? Sound off in the comment section!