Quake off Taiwan disrupts communications

(AP) - A strong earthquake off Taiwan's southern coast damaged undersea cables, disrupting phone and Internet service Wednesday in much of Taiwan, China and Japan.

Repairing the cables could take three weeks, but the situation will improve daily, said Lin Jen-hung, vice general manager of Chunghwa Telecom Co., Taiwan's largest phone company, reports Trend.

The earthquake jolted Taiwan late Tuesday, prompting a tsunami alert on the second anniversary of the Dec. 26, 2004, waves and quake that killed 230,000 in south Asia. No large waves materialized but two people were killed when their home collapsed.

The quake damaged two of the seven undersea cables near Taiwan used by several countries to route calls and Internet traffic, Chunghwa said. Crews fixing the cables would have to pull them up and transfer them to a ship for repair, the company said.

The damage to the two lines, located in the south, cut off 50 percent to 60 percent of Chunghwa's overall telephone capacity, the company said. Most severely affected were connections to China, Japan and Southeast Asian countries, it said.

The company also lost 60 percent of its telephone service to the U.S.

Chunghwa said 98 percent of Taiwan's communications capacity with Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and Hong Kong was disrupted.

Hong Kong telephone company PCCW Ltd., which also provides Internet service, said the quake cut its data capacity in half. Many Internet users were unable to access Web sites in parts of America, Taiwan and South Korea. Calls to Taiwan were not going through.

In China, Internet access was cut or had become extremely slow, said an official from China Netcom, the country's No. 2 phone company. The official, who would not give his name, said the cause was thought to be the earthquake.

Businesses in various parts of the city also said they were experiencing Internet access problems.

CCTV, the state-run television network, said China Telecom Corp., China's biggest phone company, was contacting counterparts in the U.S. and Europe about using satellites to make up for the shortfall.

KDDI Corp., Japan's major carrier for international calls, said Thursday that its fixed-line telephone service was affected.

KDDI spokesman Haruhiko Maeda said customers were having trouble making calls to India and the Middle East, which are usually routed through cables near Taiwan. Maeda said the company was rerouting calls to go through the U.S. and Europe; the company did not know how long it will take to repair the cables.

Japan's Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications said that international roaming service provided by Japan's major three telecommunications companies NTT DoCoMO, KDDI, and Softbank, has been affected. Ministry official Akira Yamanaka said that some customers were unable to make calls using their cell phones in countries including Taiwan.

South Korea's largest telecom company, KT, said that lines it uses were damaged, affecting dozens of companies and institutions, including South Korea's Foreign Ministry.

The quake was felt throughout Taiwan. The U.S. Geological Survey estimated its magnitude at 7.1, while Taiwan's Central Weather Bureau measured it at 6.7. It was followed eight minutes later by 7.0 magnitude aftershock, the USGS said. A 5.9-magnitude aftershock struck early Wednesday, the Central Weather Bureau said.

Two members of one family were killed when their four-story home collapsed in the southern Pingtung County township of Hengchun. Six other members of the family were rescued from the rubble early Wednesday, the National Fire Agency said. Forty-two people were injured.

High-rise hotels swayed violently in the southern city of Kahosiung, the CTI Cable News reported.

Quakes frequently shake Taiwan, which is part of the Pacific's "Ring of Fire," an arc of volcanos and fault lines encircling the Pacific Basin. Most are minor and cause little or no damage. However, a 7.6-magnitude earthquake in central Taiwan in September 1999 killed more than 2,300 people.

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