Life is short and fragile. Human tragedy is followed by improvements and renewal.
Theme: Redemptive Headship and Masculinity
Length: 1,000 words
Reading Time: 6 minutes + 2 video clips (26 minutes total)
Oscar wrote an email to me, asking how I have been coping with the recent earthquakes in Taiwan. We are doing fine, thankfully. I appreciate his thoughts and prayers and those of other readers.
I have some information about the recent earthquakes and a story to tell about earthquakes in Taiwan.
Information about Earthquakes in Taiwan
Taiwan lies at the cusp of the Eurasian and Philippine plates. The island of Taiwan was created from plate shifts (involving earthquake activity) over millions of years.
There are earthquakes in Taiwan almost every day. The vast majority of these earthquakes are minor. Most are hardly detectable to human senses. Some are a quiet gentle swaying. The scarier quakes produce a loud rumbling noise and everything hops and scoots on the floor and bangs around.
After living here for a while without experiencing any serious consequences, I now find them to be rather fun and entertaining.
But once in a while, we’ll have a big one.
There was a 7.7 magnitude quake that struck on 1999-9-21 that killed 2,415 people and injured 11,305 more. This quake caused NT$300 billion (US$10 billion) worth of damage.
As you’ve probably heard by now, there have been many earthquakes here lately. There were more than 70 per day between Saturday and Wednesday! Most of these recent earthquakes are minor, but there have been several 4s and 5s. Two of them were over 6! One 6.4 on Saturday night and a 6.8 on Sunday afternoon. These earthquakes were rather shallow (between 5 to 20 km. deep). This translates into more violent shaking compared to the deeper quakes. (Some are as deep as 200 km.)
Many more videos can be found here.
Casualties and Noteworthy Structural Failures
- Compressive fault lines appeared in many places (visible in the videos above).
- One old building collapsed, killing an elderly man inside instantly.
- Gaoliao Bridge and Lun Tien Bridge are two other major structures that collapsed! Yuli Bridge also suffered unrepairable damage. All these bridges are very long and very old, are are located in Fuli Township, Hualien, near the epicenter of the quakes.
- There is a mausoleum that had many cremation urns shaken out of their vaults and smashed, about 800 total. Because of the presumed spiritual significance of this event, the descendants of the dead and the mausoleum managers are in a quandary over this.
- There are also several landslides that blocked roads in the mountains. Many people are stranded in certain locales because of the blocked roads.
Fortunately, the epicenter and most of the damage is in a rural area.
Predictive Factors of Failure
Damage depends on a few factors.
- The depth, intensity, and propinquity of the quake.
- The frequency of oscillation.
- The natural harmonic frequency of structures, such as bridges and buildings.
- The design and construction of the bridges, buildings, etc.
- The composition of the ground under the foundation.
If the frequency of oscillation matches the natural harmonic frequency of a structure, and if the quake is long and intense enough, then that structure will come down if it is not designed to withstand a quake.
For the inquisitive science geeks among us, this is explained in the following video.
The video says earthquakes produce horizontal longitudinal waves. However, I have experienced earthquakes having a rapid up-and-down motion, which I suppose is either a vertical longitudinal or perhaps a horizontal transverse wave. This type of motion has a different science behind it, and these are generally much more destructive.
A Short Story about the Construction Industry in Taiwan
I have a little story to tell, that fits into our topic of redemption.
1951 was a historic year for earthquakes in Taiwan. There was a lot of damage, but people buried the dead, swept up the mess, and moved on with their lives. People considered it to be an act of God, and no one thought there was much that could be done about it.
Then in 1958, there was an old four story elementary school that suddenly and totally collapsed during an earthquake, instantly killing 128 children and injuring hundreds more. To make matters worse, the insurance industry could not shoulder the burden of rebuilding the school and compensating all the families. The public outrage was so tremendous that the Taiwan government responded by going on the warpath to revamp the entire construction industry.
Some of the measures taken included…
- Lots of government funding went toward research in developing structures that can withstand earthquakes. As a result, many new engineering designs were invented that can prevent a structure from undergoing catastrophic failure. Most of these designs are now required by law for new buildings.
- The government instituted a government bureau for overseeing the construction industry. This bureau imposes a large number of standards and requirements for construction projects and attempts to reduce the amount of corruption and fraud related to the industry.
- One requirement is that the planning and finances of construction projects are to be made public knowledge, and people are urged to report any questionable activities or controversial developments.
- Construction companies are required to place large signs in front of every construction project, giving information about the construction company, the lead engineer, the budget, companies under subcontract, and the size and duration of the project, among other information. This includes phone numbers and website links for people to get more information and/or report any suspicious activities.
- Construction companies, executives, and key engineers overseeing construction projects that fail in an earthquake now face spectacular fines (if no one was hurt) and jail time (if it resulted in death).
- Property owners are required by law to carry earthquake insurance, thereby supporting the insurance industry.
Taiwan was under martial law at that time (up until 1987), so these changes were sweeping.
As a result, the Taiwan construction industry is now the best in the world by many estimations, not only because of the rigor surrounding quality, but also because they can build structures that can reliably withstand severe earthquakes.
Of course, there’s still a lot of corruption and graft in the industry, and certain older structures continue to fail during major quakes, but nevertheless, the design and construction of newer building projects is much better than most anywhere else in the world. Anymore, the only major structures that fail in an earthquake were built before the 1970s.
If you think about it, this is a story of redemption.
The deaths of those 128 children in 1958 were indeed a sad and grievous catastrophe. But because of this tragedy, the quality and standards for construction improved, deaths continue to be prevented on an ongoing regular basis, and 23 million people live without fear of earthquakes in a land that has earthquakes nearly every day.
A question that readers may like to consider is this: Is suffering and loss a necessary part of redemption?
- Focus Taiwan: Earthquake brings down bridge, derails train in eastern Taiwan (2022-9-18)
- The Guardian: Man dies as strong earthquake topples building in Taiwan (2022-9-18)
- Reuters: Strong earthquake hits southeastern Taiwan, 146 injured (2022-9-19)
- Taiwan News: Video shows woman rescued from collapsed building in southeast Taiwan (2022-9-19)