Taiwan earthquake damages grain port and several flour mills

by Teresa Acklin
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A recent 7.6 magnitude earthquake in Taiwan damaged a major grain port and several flour mills, while aftershocks threatened more problems, according to a representative of U.S. Wheat Associates in Taiwan.

The Sept. 21 earthquake killed more than 2,000 persons and injured another 8,000. Losses totaled U.S.$32 billion, approximately 10% of Taiwan's gross domestic product, according to the Industrial Development Bureau (IDB).

The earthquake damaged the Port of Taichung, which unloads about 45% of Taiwan's total wheat imports. The quake damaged three piers used for unloading grain cargoes as well as unloading equipment, which disabled the port's two 60,000-tonne grain elevators, said K.H. Lu from the Taiwan division of U.S. Wheat Associates.

Repairs will cost U.S.$30 million and will take six months to complete, according to port authorities. In the interim, local mills plan to unload wheat onto trucks directly from ocean-going bulk carriers, Mr. Lu said.

Taiwan's two other ports, the northern Port of Keelung, which unloads 30% of the country's wheat imports, and the southern Port of Kaohsiung, which unloads 25%, were both unharmed and have been operating normally, Mr. Lu said.

Damage also was reported at the Chia Hsin, Tung Yang, Formosa and Chia Fah flour mills in Taichung county. Each mill has 4% to 5% of the flour market in Taiwan.

Production at these mills will be affected, "but other flour mills not impacted by the earthquake should quickly close the production gap because many mills were operating at less than 50% of their milling capacity," according to Mr. Lu.

Sporadic power supply after the quake is expected to disrupt flour production for another two to three weeks, he added. The state-run Taiwan Power Company said its goal was to meet 85% of manufacturers' power needs, up from 10% or less since the earthquake blacked out much of the island. Power to households and smaller industrial users is being rationed.

Seismologists warned that major aftershocks could continue in Taiwan for up to two months. Five days after the earthquake, more than 7,339 aftershocks had been recorded.

"That means Taiwan has had almost one tremor per minute since the big quake, eight of which measured 6.0 and above on the Richter scale," Mr. Lu said.