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Introduction

On September 21, 1999, an earthquake in Taiwan killed more than 2,400 people, destroyed or damaged thousands of buildings and left an estimated 100,000 people homeless. It was the worst earthquake to hit Taiwan–where quakes are common due to its location in a seismically active zone of the Pacific basin—since a 1935 tremor that killed more than 3,200 people.

At 1:47 a.m. on September 21, 1999, the island of Taiwan, located off the southeastern coast of mainland China, was shaken by a 7.6-magnitude earthquake. Its epicenter was located in Nantou County in central Taiwan, but serious damage occurred across the island. More than 2,400 people were killed, while more than 11,000 others were injured and thousands of buildings were destroyed or damaged. Roads buckled, bridges collapsed and landslides diverted rivers, causing the impromptu formation of lakes. There was not enough freezer capacity in the country’s morgues to hold all the bodies.

Buildings all over the island proved to be vulnerable. Several tall buildings in Taiwan’s capital city, Taipei, located 90 miles north of the quake’s epicenter, were toppled. The quake exposed the fact that shoddy construction had occurred during Taiwan’s building boom in the 1990s. Tent cities popped up in fields and parks because many people were afraid of being in buildings while aftershocks continued. Overall, the disaster (which became known locally as the 921 earthquake, because it occurred on September 21) caused billions of dollars in economic losses.

In 2001, the 921 Earthquake Museum of Taiwan opened in the city of Taichung, an area affected by the 1999 earthquake.