Taiwan Earthquake Kills at Least 14 as Chipmaking Hub Rocked

  • More than 150 reported missing after 6.4-magnitude temblor
  • Apple supplier TSMC sees little change to quarterly shipments

Rescue workers search for survivors at the site of a collapsed building on Feb. 6. in Tainan.

Photographer: Ashley Pon/Getty Images

A strong earthquake rocked a region of Taiwan that’s a hub for chipmaking suppliers to the likes of Apple Inc. and Qualcomm Inc., killing at least 14 people and forcing rescuers to pull hundreds from the rubble of collapsed buildings.

More than 150 people remained missing early Sunday, the official Central News Agency reported. While manufacturers’ preliminary assessments showed factory damage in the area was minimal, the temblor halted water service to about 400,000 households, cut power in the cities of Tainan and Kaohsiung, and knocked the nation’s bullet-train system offline.

The 6.4-magnitude earthquake struck an area in the island’s southwest at 3:57 a.m. local time Saturday and came at the start of the Lunar New Year holiday, a time when many people are traveling. The Fire Ministry said more than 480 people were injured when nine buildings, including a 17-story residential tower, buckled.

Rescue workers search for survivors at the site of a collapsed building

Photographer: Ashley Pon/Getty Images

Local television and United Daily News footage showed buildings tumbled across a busy road, cars buried, exposed steel amid the mangled concrete structures, and rescuers extracting women and babies out of the ruins.

Taiwan President Ma Ying-Jeou said on his Facebook page that he visited victims of the quake in the hospital and pledged full support. He said he urged rescue teams to do whatever they can to save as many people in the first crucial 72 hours.

“Premier Chang San-cheng asked rescuers to continue searching for survivors,” Cabinet spokesman Sun Lih-chyujn said in a telephone interview late Saturday. “We are committed to the rescue operations by all means.”

The U.S., Japan and mainland China have offered assistance, according to a statement from the presidential office.

Chip Production

Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. said in a statement it doesn’t expect first-quarter wafer shipments to be affected by more than 1 percent. The contract manufacturer of chips to Apple is assessing damage to products that were in the manufacturing process at plants in Tainan, though its initial estimate is that more than 95 percent of its tools can be fully restored to normal in two to three days.

TSMC will soon notify affected customers and will recover any lost production as soon as possible. There were no serious injuries or damage at its plants in Tainan.

Liquid-crystal display maker Innolux Corp. said its eight factories in Tainan shut down automatically after the quake and that production is being resumed gradually. The company said its four factories in Hsinchu are operating normally.

United Microelectronics Corp. Chief Financial Officer Liu Chitung said by phone that there were no injuries or damage at its four chip factories in Tainan, though machines will need recalibrating. UMC will evaluate the impact to operations, Liu said.

“Supply chain disruption risk is unlikely as most of the factories should be able to be back to normal in a couple of days, and it’s off season in the technology industry,” Vincent Chen, president of Yuanta Investment Consulting, said by phone. “It should be manageable with inventories.”

Earthquake Prone

Corning Inc., a supplier of glass substrate for panel makers with one factory in Tainan, didn’t suffer any damage to its facility and it is examining its operation lines, Corning Display Technologies Taiwan President Daniel Tseng said in a text message.

China Steel Corp. said its manufacturing lines in Kaohsiung and a unit in central Taiwan’s Taichung resumed normal operations before 7 a.m. local time. All employees are safe, the company said in an e-mail.

Taiwan High Speed Rail Corp. said in a text message the quake damaged its systems, and its bullet-train services in the southern part of the island will be disrupted until at least noon Sunday.

Taiwan is prone to quakes because it’s near the convergence of two of Earth’s tectonic plates -- the Philippine Sea Plate and Eurasia Plate. Movements of those plates can trigger temblors disrupting or damaging high-precision chipmaking equipment. There have been about 79 quakes greater than 4.5 in the area since the beginning of last year, according to the U.S. Geological Survey website.

The temblor’s epicenter was in Kaohsiung, about 300 kilometers (185 miles) southwest of Taipei, at a depth of 16.7 kilometers, according to Taiwan’s Central Weather Bureau website. There were at least 40 aftershocks.

A 7.3-magnitude earthquake on Sept. 21, 1999, killed 2,474 people and injured about 11,000, causing estimated visible property damage of NT$341.2 billion ($10.3 billion), the government said at the time.

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