Telephone lines and Internet service collapsed across much of Asia on Wednesday after two powerful earthquakes off the southern tip of Taiwan damaged undersea cables used by several countries to route calls and online traffic.
Two residents were killed and more than 40 injured in the magnitude-6.7 tremor that hit offshore, near the southern Taiwanese town of Hengchun late Tuesday. Up to a dozen fiber-optic cables cross the ocean floor south of Taiwan, carrying traffic between China, Japan, Korea, Southeast Asia, the United States and the island itself. Chunghwa Telecom Co., Taiwan's largest phone company, said the quake damaged several of them, and repairs could take two to three weeks. Taiwan lost almost all of its telephone capacity to Japan and mainland China. Service to the United States also was hard hit, with 60% of capacity lost. With multiple cables broken in one blow, Internet traffic around the Pacific was also severely disrupted. Hong Kong telephone company PCCW Ltd., which also provides Internet service, said the quake cut its data capacity in half. Internet access was cut or severely slowed in Beijing, said an official from China Netcom, China's No. 2 phone company. The Internet Traffic Report Web site, which monitors Internet connectivity in several countries, showed that packet loss, or the percentage of data that doesn't reach its destination, spiked sharply in Asia at the time of the earthquake, rising from about 10% to more than 40%. On Wednesday afternoon U.S. time, the Web site showed limited connectivity to China, Singapore and Indonesia. Internet access in Beijing was cut or extremely slow, while Japanese customers were having trouble calling India and the Middle East. In South Korea, dozens of companies and institutions were affected, including the country's Foreign Ministry. CCTV, the state-run television network, said China Telecom Corp., China's biggest phone company, was contacting counterparts in the U.S. and Europe about using satellites to make up for the shortfall. Japan's Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications said that international roaming service provided by Japan's major three telecommunications ÃÂ¢€" NTT DoCoMO, KDDI, and Softbank, was affected. Ministry official Akira Yamanaka said that some customers were unable to make calls using their cell phones in countries including Taiwan. South Korea's largest telecom company, KT, said that lines it uses were damaged, affecting dozens of companies and institutions, including South Korea's Foreign Ministry. The U.S. Geological Survey estimated the Taiwan earthquake magnitude at 7.1 which was followed eight minutes later by 7.0 magnitude aftershock. Quakes frequently shake Taiwan, which is part of the Pacific's "Ring of Fire," an arc of volcanoes and fault lines encircling the Pacific Basin.