Photos by MJ Klein
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.
Not only has the bridge fallen, but the riverbed itself experienced a significant upheaval.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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!
OK, I’m going to walk down and past the tilting tower, even though this goes against everything I know about towers!
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.
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):
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.
This was a tour being conducted (another thing I didn’t know about). Notice the rails.
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.
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.
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.
This section of road has been preserved.
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.