TH Schee: Lessons Taiwan has Learned from the Nantou and Hualien Earthquakes

Felicia Lin
5 min readMay 9, 2024

On April 3, 2024 at 7:58am (in Taiwan) an earthquake that’s been reported as measuring 7.2 and 7.4 hit Hualien which is located on Taiwan’s east coast. The last major earthquake of similar magnitude was 25 years ago on September 21st, 1999 in Nantou, which is located in central Taiwan. The earthquake also referred to as the 921 earthquake killed over 2,400 people, and left over 100,000 people homeless.

In this episode I’m bringing back one of our previous guests onto this podcast, T.H. Schee, who I interviewed about civil defense in Taiwan. In that interview T.H. mentioned that it was his firsthand experience with the 921 earthquake that made him concerned about disaster preparedness and civil defense. I asked T.H. to share his recollection of the 921 earthquake and thoughts on how Taiwan’s disaster response has improved since then. By most reports the death toll from the Hualien earthquake was around 13 at the time of this interview.

[LISTEN to the Complete Episode HERE on APPLE PODCASTS or SPOTIFY]

Here’s a little preview of what we talked about in this podcast episode:

  • Where T.H. was during the Hualien earthquake on April 3, 2024 and during the earthquake on September 21, 1999 in Nantou
  • The situation in Puli, after the earthquake on September 21, 1999 in Nantou
  • How around 5,000 buildings collapsed and another 5,000 buildings were damaged in Nantou
  • How people in the mountainous area of Nantou were stuck there for a month
  • How a volunteer guard patrol group was formed to protect people who were camped outside
  • How the damage in Puli was so extensive that navigation assistance needed to be provided to volunteer assistance groups
  • How a state of emergency was declared on the fourth day of the earthquake
  • Most of the deaths from the Hualien earthquake have been due to landslides and rockfalls rather than building collapses whereas most of the deaths in 1999 were due to building collapses
  • How there were around 10,000 aftershocks within a month after the 921 earthquake
  • Why people needed to camp outside after the 1999 earthquake in Nantou
  • How police station and schools collapsed (in Nantou) and students had to relocate to another building as a temporary school
  • How T.H. witnessed the death of three of his neighbors in Nantou
  • How it took three years for buildings to be rebuild in Nantou
  • Lessons from the 921 earthquake included a change in building codes, changes in laws regarding disaster response
  • How businesses including TSMC in the Hsinchu Science park had to be shut down for five days in 1999
  • How the stock market had to be shut down in 1999
  • How Tai Power had to make improvements to the power grid to make it more resilient in case of natural disasters
  • How Taiwan has offered humanitarian assistance to others e.g. the earthquake in Turkey in 2023
  • How medics who went to Nantou were poorly prepared because they did plan on bringing enough food for themselves
  • How ATMs didn’t work in Nantou after the earthquake
  • The first response to the Hualien earthquake
  • How the train between Yilan and Hualien was repaired within a day
  • How notifications after the Hualien earthquake were not sent to people in New Taipei
  • How well prepared people in Taiwan are for earthquakes
  • How the Tzu Chi foundation has been providing support to those affected by the earthquake in Hualien
  • Do’s and don’ts after an earthquake
  • How it is important to get buildings checked after an earthquake
  • How aftershocks can cause landslides and it not advisable to go into the mountains
  • The earthquake that happened in New York on April 5th and comparing the notification system in New York with the notification system for earthquakes in Taiwan
  • How to be prepared for an earthquake (have a flashlight, whistle and bottled water)
  • Do’s and Don’ts during an earthquake and aftershocks
  • How Taiwan’s government used to be a strong party state system in 1999, but after the 921 earthquake they learned the value of working with civil society and there were legal reforms
  • A few months after the 1999 there was a change in government when people voted for Chen Shui-bian in 2000
  • How TSMC resumed 80% of its capacity within a day after the Hualien earthquake
  • T.H.’s gym 4SC Crossfit and the training and workshops the support and offer related to disaster preparedness and civil defense

Related Links:

Here are 2 options those wishing to make a donation for Hualien Earthquake Relief:

Tzu Chi Foundation April 3 Hualien Earthquake Relief: https://global.tzuchi.org/tags/projects-april-3-hualien-earthquake

Taiwan’s Ministry of Health and Welfare’s Public Health and Welfare Foundation for Disaster Relief (Donation account and instructions): https://mohw.gov.tw/cp-16-78264-1.html

T.H. Schee’s tweet about the September 21, 1999 earthquake and how Taiwan has come a long way since then: https://twitter.com/scheeinfo/status/1775699842741997588

Hualien: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hualien_County

The 921 earthquake that happened in Nantou on September 21, 1999: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1999_Jiji_earthquake

Lee Teng-hui: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lee_Teng-hui

Tzu Chi Foundation: https://www.tzuchi.org/

FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency): https://www.fema.gov/

2009 Typhoon Morakot: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Typhoon_Morakot

Video of nurses bracing and steading newborns during the April 3, 2024 earthquake in Taiwan: https://youtu.be/qEGQ9h-B0NI?si=xP9GgrhikdKlNaLf

TSMC (Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company Limited): https://www.tsmc.com/english

Hsinchu Science Park: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hsinchu_Science_Park

February 7, 2023 Turkey-Syria earthquake news: https://www.cnn.com/middleeast/live-news/turkey-syria-earthquake-updates-2-7-23-intl/h_5735e8f8dfd543d85ff6b56d6388c74f

Yilan: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yilan_County,_Tai

New Taipei: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Taipei_City

Chen Shui-bian: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chen_Shui-bian

TSMC Charity Foundation: https://www.tsmc.com/english/aboutTSMC/tsmc_charity

During Hualien visit, TSMC Charity chair Sophie Chang promises to help victims rebuild|Taiwan News: https://youtu.be/KcA92CGJVTs?si=GenTzSrKojRY76Hl

TSMC resumes work at construction sites after earthquake-led shutdown: https://www.reuters.com/technology/tsmc-resumes-work-construction-sites-after-earthquake-led-shutdown-2024-04-04/

Taiwan’s Civil Defense Preparedness: T.H. Schee on How to Prepare for the Threat of an Attack Ep 178: https://talkingtaiwan.com/taiwans-civil-defense-preparedness-t-h-schee-on-how-to-prepare-for-the-threat-of-an-attack-ep-178/

T.H. Schee: On Taiwan’s Civil Defense Preparedness One Year Later After the War in Ukraine Ep 232: https://talkingtaiwan.com/th-schee-on-taiwans-civil-defense-preparedness-one-year-later-after-the-war-in-ukraine-ep-232/

Live Conversations with Our Past Guests at 4SC Crossfit in New Taipei City, Taiwan Ep 273: https://talkingtaiwan.com/live-conversations-with-our-past-guests-at-4sc-crossfit-in-new-taipei-city-taiwan-ep-273/

LISTEN to Episode 228: TH Schee: Lessons Taiwan has Learned from the Nantou and Hualien Earthquakes HERE

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Felicia Lin

Felicia Lin is the producer and host of Talking Taiwan, the longest running Taiwan-related podcast, and Golden Crane Podcast Award Winner.