Mingjian 921 Memorial Park

Photos by MJ Klein

Tiliting Electric Tower in Mingjian Hui-chen and I were in Nantou and we basically stumbled upon the 921 Memorial Park in Mingjian. Actually it’s not exactly named that, but that is precisely what it is – a park dedicated to the memory of the 921 earthquake. 2,416 lives were lost in the 7.3 magnitude quake that occurred at 01:47 local time. That’s after midnight, folks. I’ve been in quite a few earthquakes, and some of them big enough to be frightening but can you imagine being awakened by a huge earthquake in the middle of the night? Surely the high numbers of people lost were due to the fact that they were home in bed when their building collapsed.

The 921 earthquake has special meaning for me. I first traveled to Taiwan in April of 2000. I visited some sites in Taichung, at the northern end of the fault line and personally saw the destruction and also some of the repair efforts underway. I will never forget looking at a landslide while someone told me that there were several hundred people still unaccounted for, and they were presumed to be buried under the landslide.

This photo is of what is called (in English) the Tilting Electric Tower. It’s a fitting memorial to the earthquake and demonstrates the extend of the damage. This tower is the centerpiece of the park, and I took a short walking tour of the park with the specific goal of reporting on it. So please join me as I take you thorough the park and we get a closer look at it’s features. But first, I want to show you some historical photos I took in 2000.

Chi-chi Earthquake Photos

Chi-chi Earthquake Photos

Not only has the bridge fallen, but the riverbed itself experienced a significant upheaval.

Chi-chi Earthquake Photos

This shot (despite the raindrops on the lens) shows the story. The ground shifted by about 7 meters and the end of the bridge broke off. The waterfall is new and a result of the upheaval.

Chi-chi Earthquake Photos

In this same location, a small temporary bridge was built, and that subsequently sank as a result of aftershocks and further activity in the area. So, a second temporary bridge was built, and it’s seen to the far left.

Chi-chi Earthquake Photos

This is a closeup of the first temporary bridge. Opening any of these photos will take you to my flickr album for further photo browsing.

Now, back to the memorial park.

The most striking feature of the park is the tilted tower:

Tiliting Electric Tower in Mingjian

When you first walk down the path towards the tower, it’s a bit unnerving. Perhaps it’s just me because I’ve climbed a tower or two in my broadcast engineering days. I’ve never seen one fall but I’ve seen a few on the ground afterwards and I can tell you that a fallen tower is every engineer’s nightmare. The closer I got, the more uneasy I felt.

Tiliting Electric Tower in Mingjian

This just looks so wrong. The tower is leaning at an angle of 16.5 degrees. That is non-trivial! Notice the visible ring around the base. It appears as if the ground became liquid and re-solidified.

Tiliting Electric Tower in Mingjian

Now compare this with a shot of the nearby replacement tower and you can see that the tilting tower basically sank into the earth.

The path thorough the park takes you past, and directly underneath the tilting tower!

Tiliting Electric Tower in Mingjian

OK, I’m going to walk down and past the tilting tower, even though this goes against everything I know about towers!

Tiliting Electric Tower in Mingjian

I looked up and got a really strange feeling. It was not a good feeling. It’s hard to get the sense of the tilt in this photo but I’m looking straight up through the camera. The tower is hanging overhead.

Tiliting Electric Tower in Mingjian

Here is what the tower looks like from the other side, facing away. I surpressed the urge to climb up onto the pylon for a better view.

My uneasy feelings are unfounded. The local engineering authority has certified that this tower is safe to leave it as it is. It’s not going to fall.

Here is a closeup of the information sign (the English section):

Tiliting Electric Tower in Mingjian

I’m not sure that the term “caisson” is correct, but what it’s saying about the construction is that there is a big chunk of concrete below ground, and that a concrete pylon is holding the tower up. The whole thing sank like a spoon in a bowl of pudding.

What wasn’t immediately clear upon visiting the park is that there are also examples of twisted rails and a bulging road.

Tiliting Electric Tower in Mingjian

This was a tour being conducted (another thing I didn’t know about). Notice the rails.

Tiliting Electric Tower in Mingjian

Rails are pretty useful indicators of ground movement because they tend to stay attached to the ground as they are designed not to move, obviously.

Tiliting Electric Tower in Mingjian

The new replacement rails are above the old rails. I’m not sure how much of the rail movement is the result of the earthquake, or how much has been “stylized” as they had to move them out of the way for replacement construction.

Tiliting Electric Tower in Mingjian

There are remnants ties still attached to the rails. It’s not clear whether the original bridge collapsed or, the replacement rails were built on the original bridge.

This area experienced an upheaval and there are hills and bulges here that did not exist before.

Tiliting Electric Tower in Mingjian

This section of road has been preserved.

Tiliting Electric Tower in Mingjian

Damage like this made the road impossible to drive and the new road goes around the park.

It’s amazing to see these features in person! The power of this earthquake is unimaginable to me. From Wikipedia:

  • 2,416 deaths (including missing people)
  • 11,443 severely wounded
  • US$9.2 billion worth of damage
  • 44,338 houses completely destroyed
  • 41,336 houses severely damaged

The earthquake continued to shake Taiwan throughout the night. Anecdotal stories tell of an undestroyed house sliding from one county to another during the quake, forcing the change of the owner’s address.

I’ve seen the tilting tower from highway #3 many times but never knew the story. The next time you’re in the area of Mingjian, you may want to take a stroll through the 921 Memorial Park and see these sights for yourself.

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  2. Hi There,

    Why imagine? I was here already. I remember the shaking and my screaming flatmate. I grabbed my passport and headed out the door. Shortly before this quake there was a huge one in Turkey that killed around 15,000 people or more. Many people died from dehydration as they were trapped under some buildings. I remember not wanting to be one.

    I also remember the tremendous efforts from the international rescue teams who came and helped. I also remember China not allowing a Russian rescue team to fly through their airspace forcing them to waste time and fly to Europe.

    Anyway. It wasn’t pleasant.

    I am now thinking of those poor souls in Sichuan. Hopefully they will get all the help and assistance they will need. I am sure the Taiwanese people will be generous in their assistance,

    Its important to remember.

    Take care.

    durbanbays last blog post..Remembering Hainan, 2005

    1. durbanbay » thanks for your comments. it’s hard to believe that in a time like that China was busy playing politics. nice to know you can always count on them to be the biggest assholes possible in any given situation. i can only hope that they get a taste of it now.

      i heard of a guy who immediately jumped out the 4th floor window. apparently the building was pulled down faster than it would have free fallen and he ended up riding it down on the roof. he lived while others weren’t so fortunate. there must be thousands of such stories from that event.

      1. Hi There,

        Actually, I don’t wish China suffers. I hope the world helps them now. The people there will need it. My Wife and I spent two weeks travelling through that area in 2005. It was a wonderful time and we met some great people in the countryside and in Chengdu too. I really do hope they are OK. We will try to contact them later to find out. China’s response to Taiwan’s earthquake was very disappointing no doubt, but I do not wish them suffering either.

        I never heard about that man. I think however, the greatest tragedy was that many of the fatalities and casualties could have been prevented. Poor construction and cost cutting on construction led to many of the buildings falling down, especially in Taichung. We heard that one of the contractors used garbage instead of concrete as filling on some of the buildings. Of course they were structually weak. The building that fell down in Pateh Road in Taipei, only fell down because the bank on the first floor had removed one of the support pillars as it was in the way of the counter and would obstruct the customers.

        But the greatest victory of the Taiwanese people was the way they recovered and worked together to get the island back up and running as fast as they did.

        The earthquake was a vivid memory and will always be.


        durbanbays last blog post..Remembering Hainan, 2005

        1. durbanbay » i don’t want China to suffer either. i just want them to get what’s coming to them – to face consequences of their malevolence toward Taiwan and the world.

          a lot has been learned from 921. i was in Taoyuan during the October 15th quake of 2004. i was in a new building, built to the new code standards and it survived just fine.

          you are 100% right about the victory of the Taiwanese people! not only did they get things running again, they made it better and safer.

          thanks for your excellent comments!

          1. Hi There,

            You are welcome for the comments. Its good to have an intelligent exchange.

            Yes. New building codes were introduced and many of the buildings now withstand earthquakes better. I also think inspections have improved. Although whenever I hear my neighbors banging away at the walls I get nervous. Never know what they are knocking out.

            We were also in the one in 2002 when some construction gear fell off 101 and killed some of the workers. That was very sad. I cannot remember the details but I think a crane fell down or something. I wasn’t here in 2004, was in China so never felt that one.

            Morris Chang, the founder of TSMC, epitomized the spirit of the Taiwanese when he said immediately after the earthquake, he went to TSMC in Hsin Chu and the car park was already full at 2:00am in the morning. All the managers had piched up on their own accord to make sure everything was OK and to get things up and running as quickly as they could. The world owes a huge debt of gratitude to this spirit. Immediately after 921 the NASDAQ dipped as the investors undersood the importance of Taiwan in the global economy.

            921 was nine years ago. It is amazing how time flies.

            Have a great day.

            durbanbays last blog post..Remembering Sichuan

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  4. Interesting place. Have you seen the collapsed temple in Jiji? There’s also a school that’s now the official 921 museum near Taichung.

  5. I’ve driven past the tilting tower and have been meaning to check out the site for awhile now… Thanks for the report MJ! Cathy has a few pictures she took around the area after the quake. Her family’s house survived, can’t say the same for the school she was attending though.

    Todds last blog post..Jhongsing Lotus Pond

    1. Todd » i’d like to read your report on the park when you visit it (should be easier now that you’re closer). it’s unnerving being near that tower leaning as such an angle! thanks Todd.

  6. They did a good job of preserving the devastating effects of the 921 earthquake in this memorial park. It is very chilling to see, and I’m sure it’s even worse when you are actually there contemplating all the destruction. Thanks for this post. It’s very timely given the earthquake in China.

    Sandys last blog post..New York City: A Small Bite of the Big Apple

    1. Sandy » we passed by there again on Thursday, and if you know what’s there and where to look, you can see those artifacts from the highway (although at speed!).

      the strange thing about all this is that i wrote the article about a week in advance and scheduled it for Monday.

  7. I saw that tilting tower this past weekend on my way to and from Sitou. I figured it was due to either an earthquake or a typhoon, but thanks to your entry, I now know the story behind it. Next time I’m in the area, I’ll have to check out the park.

    Kaminoges last blog post..The weekend ??

    1. Kaminoge » i had been seeing that thing for months and thinking “what the heck – why don’t they take it down?” of course not realizing what it really was. i was just thinking from a broadcast engineer’s viewpoint: it’s gonna come down! i’m glad they left it up and made a fitting memorial park.

  8. Hey!
    how funny I was just talking about the 921 with my client today over lunch here in philly. When it hit I was in Chu-Shan, the town next to Mingjian. My friend’s apartment went from five stories to four stories, with the first floor collapsed. they climbed down from the signs by the side of the building to escape. They lost all their belongings and books, art materials, etc. (one of the boys eventually enrolled in the best art school, despite not having any books to study for the next four months before the exams). My school’s main building and dorms were destroyed, and they all had to be knocked down. School stopped for two weeks, my class was sent to be in another school in Dou-Leu for a month, when we came back, we had to wear dust masks while in class, because they were knocking down the buildings (and the teacher inhaled all the dust). Our classrooms were temporary built with sheet metals, it’s hot in the summer, cold in the winter (just the way it’s supposed to be!). While going through all the ordeal, i never thought about how it might had traumatized us; we were only worry about being interrupted from our routine and worried about going to college and exams (no time for earthquake and all his problems). But in retrospective, I think it changed my attitude on how I live my life; I expect the unexpected, and try to do the best and the most honest to myself, cause you never know when and what you will loss tomorrow. It’s very awakening, and a time savor for life in general. This past holiday season i was in Taiwan and my friends and i recounted the event; too much were forgotten, and lots of details to laugh about.

    In fact on that day I took some pictures, you could still see them on my website on http://www.shanjulin.com/photography [editor’s note: click on “Taiwan”]

    i have given some thought on writing the stories about people coming thorough 921, but am not sure if there’s any interest for such stories. Please let me know what you think about the photos. cheers.

    1. Shan » great photos! thanks for sharing that link with our readers! of course people would be interested in those stories, Shan. you should seriously think about writing them because it would be from your own personal viewpoint as a witness, rather than commentary from someone outside of the event.

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