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Taiwan Earthquake

Date Posted: 1999-09-25

A gigantic earthquake with a magnitude of 7.6 shook Taiwan, Tuesday, killing at least 1,600 and injuring in excess of 2,900 people. Taiwan being less than 500 miles away from Okinawa, a question invariably arises whether such quake could hit Okinawa.

According to officials at Okinawa Meteorological Observatory, earthquakes that can take place around Okinawa are categorized in two types. One is the trench type, which happens when the Philippine Sea Plate sinks into the Ryukyu Plate and the Eurasian Plate with Ryukyu Islands bouncing creating the trench earthquake. Another is called the intra-plate earthquake, the center of which would be located right under the Ryukyu Islands.

Luckily for us living on these islands, an intra-plate earthquake with a magnitude over 7 is likely to happen only once in a thousand year. However, smaller earthquakes of trench type, most barely noticeable, are rather common. In recent years the Iriomote Island, especially, has been the center of a series of tremors, sometimes tens and hundreds per day. Almost all of those are noticeable only by sophisticated instruments.

A more menacing danger to Okinawa would be a tsunami caused by a powerful earthquake in relatively shallow water in the surrounding seas. Such a tsunami wreaked havoc to Ishigaki Island about 200 years ago when two thirds of Yeyama Town inhabitants, or about 10,000 people perished.

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