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Major Taiwan earthquake triggers tsunami warnings across region

TAIPEI, Taiwan — A major 7.4-magnitude earthquake hit Taiwan's east on Wednesday morning, prompting tsunami warnings for the self-ruled island as well as parts of southern Japan and the Philippines.

The quake hit just before 8:00am local time (0000 GMT), with the United States Geological Survey (USGS) putting the epicenter 18 kilometers (11 miles) south of Taiwan's Hualien City, at a depth of 34.8 km.

Japan's Meteorological Agency issued a warning for tsunami waves as high as three meters (10 feet) for remote Japanese islands in the region, including Miyakojima island.

In Taiwan, authorities issued a tsunami warning via text message "to remind people in coastal areas to be vigilant and take strict precautions and pay attention to the dangers caused by sudden surges in waves".

The initial earthquake was felt across Taiwan, with AFP reporters from the southern Pingtung county to the north in Taipei reporting strong shaking sensations.

The aftershocks -- which included a 6.5-magnitude earthquake near Hualien according to Taipei's weather agency -- were also felt in Taipei.

In the capital, the metro briefly stopped running but appeared to have resumed within an hour, while residents received warnings from their local borough chiefs to check for any gas leaks.

"I wanted to run out but I wasn't dressed. That was so strong," said Kelvin Hwang, a guest at a downtown hotel who sought shelter in the lift lobby on the ninth floor.

Officials said the earthquake was the strongest felt on the island in decades.

"The earthquake is close to land and it's shallow. It's felt all over Taiwan and offshore islands," said Wu Chien-fu, director of Taipei's Central Weather Administration's Seismology Center.

"It's the strongest in 25 years since the (1999) earthquake," he told reporters.

A 7.6-magnitude quake hit Taiwan in September 1999, killing around 2,400 people in the deadliest natural disaster in the island's history.

Wu warned that authorities are not ruling out that "there will be earthquakes with magnitude of 6.5 to 7 in three days which will be relatively close to the land".

"The public should pay attention to relevant warnings and messages and be prepared for earthquake