Developer quizzed over Taiwan quake collapse as 100 still buried

Developer quizzed over Taiwan quake collapse as 100 still buried
A relative cries after his family member was confirmed dead at a 17-storey apartment building that collapsed after an earthquake hit Tainan, southern Taiwan
PHOTO: Reuters

Tainan, Taiwan - The developer of a 16-storey Taiwan apartment complex that collapsed during a quake was taken in for questioning on Tuesday as rescuers deployed heavy machinery to find 100 people still feared trapped in the rubble.

Prosecutors in the southern city of Tainan launched an investigation into Saturday's disaster after photos showed cans and foam had been used to fill parts of the complex's concrete framework.

The district court will later decide whether the developer, identified as Lin Ming-hui, and two of his employees should be formally detained, said court spokeswoman Kuo Chen-hsiu. The three were taken to the prosecutors' office early Tuesday.

Around 40 people have been confirmed dead and some 100 are still missing after the collapse of the Wei-kuan building. Tuesday's hearing came as the 72-hour "golden window" for finding survivors expired.

It was the only high-rise in the southern city of Tainan to crumble completely when the 6.4 magnitude quake struck before dawn on Saturday.

More than 210 people have been rescued from the building but authorities believe over 100 others could still be buried.

Tainan mayor William Lai ordered rescuers to start using heavy machinery early Tuesday to remove giant concrete slabs to better detect signs of life, after completing a search of the upper parts of the structure.

One woman said she was losing hope after three days of waiting for news of loved ones.

"My brother and sister-in-law are trapped in Building A at the bottom of the wreckage. I feel like they've given up on them," Cheng Ya-ling told AFP.

"I'm losing hope and losing faith in the rescue. If there's no miracle and they don't come out alive, I only hope they died quickly and didn't suffer." "I've been waiting since Saturday in freezing weather at night and I have blankets. How are they going to survive buried down there?" she said.

Distraught relatives waiting for news of loved ones repeatedly interrupted the mayor as he gave a briefing on the rescue, complaining that they had to wait for information from the media rather than being informed directly.

"I beg you to save us. Our family still have three people trapped inside," one tearful woman shouted at Lai as she broke through cordons and threw herself to the ground.

"We are going to break down," another man complained.

Use of heavy machinery had been repeatedly delayed after rescuers detected signs of life in upper parts of the toppled structure.

There have been some dramatic rescues, including a eight-year-old girl and three others pulled from the wreckage on Monday.

While the rescue operation was under way Tuesday, the island was jolted by a 4.9-magnitude quake off the eastern city of Hualien but no damage or casualties were reported.

President Ma Ying-jeou on Tuesday repeated his pledge to continue searching for those trapped deep within the rubble, even beyond the 72-hour window when the chance of survival rapidly diminishes.

"The government won't give up any one of them. Although the golden 72 hours of rescue has passed, lots of rescue records in the world have beaten it," Ma said while visiting the central emergency operations centre outside Taipei.

Cranes, drills, ladders, sniffer dogs and life detection equipment are being used to locate those buried, with emergency workers and soldiers shoring up the rubble to avoid further collapses.

Taipei mayor Ko Wen-je said the killer quake would speed up urban renewal projects in the capital.

"It would cause huge risks for our citizens should any earthquake of the same scale hit the Taipei area," he told reporters.

The quake struck two days before Lunar New Year, when many people would have been visiting relatives for the biggest celebration of the Chinese calendar.

Taiwan lies near the junction of two tectonic plates and is regularly hit by earthquakes.

The island's worst tremor in recent decades was a 7.6 magnitude quake in September 1999 that killed around 2,400 people.

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