Taiwan developer arrested over quake building collapse

Tainan, Taiwan - The developer of a Taiwan apartment complex that collapsed during a strong earthquake was arrested Tuesday, as rescuers reported hearing signs of life in the rubble where some 100 people are still trapped.

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 took the developer, identified as Lin Ming-hui, and two of his employees into formal custody late Tuesday after they were questioned at the prosecutors' office earlier.

"The court has decided to have all of them be taken into custody on charges of negligence of business duties that caused deaths," Tainan court spokeswoman Kuo Jen-shiow told AFP.

Around 40 people have been confirmed dead and scores are still missing after the collapse of the 16-storey 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 Saturday.

However, Tainan mayor William Lai offered fresh hope of more survivors.

"After detecting signs of life, the rescue team then banged in the direction of the signs three times, and they got a response three times. This shows there's a living person within," the mayor told a press conference.

More than 210 people have already been rescued, including an eight-year-old girl and three others pulled from the rubble Monday.

But hopes were dimming for some relatives of the missing.

"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 repeatedly interrupted the mayor's briefing, complaining they had to wait for information from the media rather than being informed directly.

"I beg you to save us. Our family still has 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.

Meanwhile, President Ma Ying-jeou pledged to press on with the rescue operation.

"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.

The chance of survival rapidly diminishes after the 72-hour window.

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.

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.

The weekend 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.