As Taiwan began to cope Tuesday with the devastation of its most powerful earthquake since 1935, George C. Lee of the National Center for Earthquake Engineering Research at the University at Buffalo managed to talk by phone to two former students based in Taipei.
"From their own viewpoints, their homes and their work, they had no problem," Lee said of Jinnshing Hwang and Neil Tseng.
"The epicenter of the earthquake was almost 100 miles away, but still some buildings in Taipei collapsed. The whole island felt the earthquake. It was that powerful."
Tseng is the owner of a software company, and Hwang is a professor at National Taiwan University, both in Taipei. The university, like UB, has a well-known earthquake center.
"I talked to Dr. Hwang mainly about the possibility of their doing a careful study of the earthquake, gathering scientific information so that, when we go there in two, three, four weeks, they can do a one- or two-day briefing for us and escort us to the earthquake site."
Lee, who lived on Taiwan during his high school and college years, said earthquake experts from UB would not go to the island nation now "because we would be an extra burden and couldn't see anything anyway."
Tseng and Hwang told Lee that they think Puli, a small town in Nantou County, "is totally collapsed. People could not get there. Only helicopters and airplanes could see."
"Taiwan is a very frequent place for earthquakes," Lee said. "It is right on what we call the Pacific plate." A plate is a huge movable segment of the earth's crust -- in this case, on the ocean floor.
Software executive Tseng told Lee that the earthquake could create a shortage of certain computer components.
"He said some manufacturing facilities were wiped out" in one of Taiwan's technology centers, said Lee, and "some computer parts could also be delayed because of the power outages."