“I was lying down, reading in my ninth-floor apartment in Taipei when the lights began to fade. Then the room began to move violently. It was as if some monster had grabbed the building and was shaking it from side to side. I dived under a table as the sound of things crashing on the floor above made me afraid the ceiling would come down. It seemed to go on and on.”—A journalist living in Taiwan.

EARTHQUAKE. The very mention of the word elicits fear, and recently you may have heard it with alarming regularity. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, more than the usual number of major earthquakes occurred during 1999, and the number of deaths resulting was double the annual average.

The largest earthquake of 1999 took place in Taiwan, where two major plates of the earth’s crust converge. In all, there are 51 recognized fault lines running through Taiwan. Hence, it is not surprising that some 15,000 temblors are recorded here each year. Most of them, though, are too small to be felt.

Not so on September 21, 1999. At 1:47 a.m., Taiwan was rocked by an earthquake so severe that President Lee Teng-hui dubbed it “the island’s worst in a century.” It lasted just 30 seconds but measured 7.6 on the Richter scale. * The depth of the  temblor was just over half a mile [1 km], and its shallow nature caused its effects to be fully felt. “I was awakened by a severe rocking,” says Liu Xiu-Xia, who lives near the quake’s epicenter. “Furnishings fell, and even the ceiling light came crashing down. I was unable to get out because the door was jammed by fallen objects and broken glass.” Huang Shu-Hong, who was thrown out of bed by the quake, met with a different challenge. “The electricity immediately went off, so it was very dark,” she says. “I stumbled outside and spent the rest of the night with neighbors on the roadside. The ground didn’t seem to stop moving.”

Rescue Efforts

At dawn the effects of the earthquake were evident. As many as 12,000 structures, from single-story homes to multistory apartment buildings, had collapsed. As word of the disaster spread, rescue specialists from 23 countries came to Taiwan to help local volunteers. Many victims were still trapped by debris.

The first 72 hours following a disaster are crucial to finding survivors, but in this case rescue workers met with some surprises. For example, a six-year-old boy was rescued after being trapped for 87 hours. And in Taipei, while workers were using heavy equipment to clear away the wreckage of a collapsed 12-story residence building, a young man suddenly emerged. He and his brother had been trapped inside for more than five days, and both survived the ordeal!

Sadly, however, not all could be reached, and rescue workers faced some heartbreaking moments. For instance, one team leader lamented: “We heard a child crying until eight hours ago. But then it stopped.” In the end, the death toll in Taiwan rose above 2,300, and more than 8,500 people were injured.

Facing the Aftermath

A huge effort was launched to provide shelter for the hundreds of thousands who were left  homeless by the earthquake. At first, some victims were a bit hesitant to go back indoors. This is understandable, for during the ten-day period following the initial quake, nearly 10,000 aftershocks were recorded! One of these measured 6.8 on the Richter scale, causing several already weakened structures to collapse.

Nevertheless, relief work continued. A number of nongovernmental organizations—including foreign rescue teams, the Buddhist group Tzu Chi, and fire fighters—contributed their time and skill to the work at hand. Also involved in the relief work were Jehovah’s Witnesses. In the spirit of the Bible counsel at Galatians 6:10, they had two goals. They wanted to (1) provide for those related to them in the faith and (2) do good toward all, including those who do not share their beliefs.

By the end of the first day, Jehovah’s Witnesses were trucking in food, water, tents, and outdoor cooking equipment. Since all communications were down, elders from the six congregations in the affected area made a concerted effort to search out fellow Witnesses and their relatives as well as Bible students and interested ones. Witnesses who were found to be homeless were encouraged to camp together so that all could be well looked after and contacted easily. Traveling overseers and members of the Taiwan Branch Committee visited each group and congregation to provide encouragement.

The next step was to repair homes and Kingdom Halls that had been damaged. Each congregation made up a list of those needing assistance. Then, under the direction of the Regional Building Committee, teams of volunteers were sent to make needed repairs. Within a month after the quake, the work was complete.

Jehovah’s Witnesses also extended help to their non-Witness neighbors. For example, the Witnesses visited hospitals and tent communities to provide comfort. They also distributed photocopies of the article “Natural Disasters—Helping Your Child to Cope,” published in the June 22, 1996, issue of Awake! Many people were grateful to receive this information and began reading it immediately. As roads were opened, Jehovah’s Witnesses sent truckloads of supplies into isolated mountain areas that had been badly affected by the earthquake.

Those who study the Bible realize that it long ago foretold that the last days of this system of things would be marked by “earthquakes in one place after another.” (Matthew 24:7) But the Bible also provides assurance that soon, under the peaceful rule of God’s Kingdom, mankind will no longer live in fear of natural disasters. At that time the earth will truly be a paradise.—Isaiah 65:17, 21, 23; Luke 23:43.


^ par. 6 In contrast, the tragic earthquake that occurred in Turkey in August 1999 registered 7.4, yet it claimed at least seven times as many lives as the one in Taiwan.

[Pictures on page 26]

Jehovah’s Witnesses held their meetings while living in camps

[Picture on page 27]

The earthquake destroyed many roads

[Credit Line]

San Hong R-C Picture Company

[Picture Credit Line on page 25]

San Hong R-C Picture Company

[Picture Credit Line on page 27]

Seismogram on pages 2, 25-7: Figure courtesy of the Berkeley Seismological Laboratory