An earthquake with a magnitude of 7.7 struck off the east coast of Taiwan on Wednesday, killing at least nine people and injuring more than 1,000 in the island's strongest temblor in 25 years, while small tsunami reached nearby islands in Japan's southwest.

The biggest quake to hit since one that struck central Taiwan in 1999 triggered landslides in Hualien County and caused loss of contact with over 140 people, local authorities and reports said.

A building in Hualien, eastern Taiwan, is tilted as it partially collapses following a powerful earthquake on April 3, 2024. (Central News Agency/Kyodo)

Nearly 1,000 people were also believed to have been stranded in Taroko park, a major tourist spot featuring a gorge in a mountainous area, according to local reports.

Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen set up an emergency response office with military personnel dispatched to quake-hit areas for relief operations.

President-elect Lai Ching-te, the current vice president who will be inaugurated as Tsai's successor on May 20, visited Hualien and said saving lives is the top priority, according to the presidential office.

High-speed railway services on the island were partially suspended and major expressways in its east were closed due to debris, but the safety of all its nuclear plants was confirmed.

In Japan, its meteorological agency said small tsunami of up to 30 centimeters reached the islands of Yonaguni, Ishigaki and Miyako in Okinawa Prefecture. A tsunami alert for the southern prefecture was later lifted.

Taiwan's authorities said the epicenter of the 7:58 a.m. quake was located at a depth of 15.5 kilometers in the Pacific Ocean, 25 km south-southeast of Hualien County Hall. Its intensity was measured at upper 6 in Hualien on Taiwan's 7-tier scale, according to local reports.

Image taken from video footage run by TVBS shows people rescuing a child from a partially collapsed building in Hualien, eastern Taiwan, following a powerful earthquake on April 3, 2024. (TVBS/AP/Kyodo)

The quake registered 4 on the Japanese seismic intensity scale of 7 in Yonaguni, said the Japan Meteorological Agency. Its epicenter was at a depth of 23 km, some 250 km west-southwest of Ishigaki Island.

Taiwan's meteorological authority put the magnitude of the quake at 7.2, while Japan's said it registered 7.7.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said Japan will "swiftly offer support" to Taiwan if requested. In a post to X, formerly Twitter, the premier called Taiwan "a neighbor across the sea" and expressed his sympathy for victims of the quake.

In Hualien, the quake caused a five-story building to tilt precariously with its first floor collapsing, while a nine-story building was also left leaning. Schools and offices suspended activities.

Chang Hung-chuan, 62, who lives near the leaning nine-story building, told Kyodo News that he could feel the latest temblor was different from those he experienced before because it lasted longer.

"When it happened I felt numb because usually in Hualien we have plenty of earthquakes, but this was different. We were shaken up and down and from side to side. I knew something was wrong," he said.

Image taken from video footage run by TVBS shows a partially collapsed building in Hualien, eastern Taiwan, following a powerful earthquake on April 3, 2024. (TVBS/AP/Kyodo)

Rescue workers were trying to get a trapped woman out of the tilted nine-story building while aftershocks continued, but she was later confirmed dead. Areas near the building were cordoned off.

The owner of a Hualien cafe told Kyodo News via telephone that jolts lasted about two minutes and they were so powerful that he could not keep standing. "I was scared but felt relieved because nobody in the neighborhood was injured," he said.

The quake was felt across Taiwan and a series of aftershocks continued to rock the island, with schools evacuating children to open sports fields for safety. In the capital Taipei, debris has fallen off some buildings and monuments, including the archway at the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall, local media reports said.

Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co., the world's largest contract chipmaker, temporarily evacuated its employees from some of its plants in northwestern Hsinchu following the quake and decided to halt construction of its new production facilities on the island for safety checks.

Naha airport in the southern Japan island prefecture of Okinawa is crowded on April 3, 2024, after operations were temporarily suspended following a tsunami warning due to a powerful earthquake off Taiwan. (Kyodo) ==Kyodo

In Okinawa, flights were temporarily suspended at Naha airport following the issuance of the tsunami warning, with passengers urged to move to higher floors of the terminal building. The airport is located on the coast of Okinawa Island.

Across the Taiwan Strait, jolts were also felt in Fujian, Guangdong, Shanghai, Zhejiang and Jiangsu, temporarily disrupting railway services in mainland China, according to Chinese media reports.

The Taiwan Affairs Office of China's State Council said Beijing is willing to provide disaster relief assistance and extends its "sincere sympathy to the Taiwan compatriots" affected by the quake, the official Xinhua News Agency said.

But Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council turned down the offer, according to the island's media.

China and Taiwan have been governed separately since they split in 1949 following a civil war. 

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