Hualien County on Taiwan’s east coast is a scenic, sleepy tourist area tucked away from the island’s urban centers, with a famous gorge and aquamarine waters. It also happens to sit on several active faults, making it prone to earthquakes.

The county has a population of about 300,000, according to the 2020 census, about a third of whom live in the coastal city of Hualien, the county seat. It is one of the most sparsely populated parts of Taiwan. About three hours by train from the capital, Taipei, the city describes itself as the first place on the island that’s touched by the sun.

Hualien County is home to Taroko National Park, one of Taiwan’s most popular scenic areas. Visitors come to explore the Taroko Gorge, a striated marble canyon carved by the Liwu River, which cuts through mountains that rise steeply from the coast. The city of Hualien is a popular destination as a gateway to the national park.

According to the state-owned Central News Agency, three hikers were trapped on a trail near the entrance to the gorge on Wednesday, after the quake sent rocks falling. Two of them were found dead, the news agency said. Administrators said many roads within the park had been cut off by the earthquake, potentially trapping hikers, according to the report.

Earthquakes have rattled Hualien with some regularity. In 2018, 17 people were killed and hundreds of others injured when a magnitude 6.5 quake struck just before midnight, its epicenter a short distance northeast of the city of Hualien.

Many of the victims in that quake were in a 12-story building that was severely tilted, the first four floors of which were largely crushed, according to news reports from the time. The next year, the area was shaken by a 6.1-magnitude earthquake that injured 17 people.

The area has some of the highest concentrations of Taiwan’s aboriginal population, with several of the island’s Indigenous tribes calling the county home.

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