Taiwan to tighten building safety laws

Emergency workers clearing away debris at the site of the collapsed Wei-guan Golden Dragon building last week. There is growing anger over allegations that the building was shoddily constructed.
Emergency workers clearing away debris at the site of the collapsed Wei-guan Golden Dragon building last week. There is growing anger over allegations that the building was shoddily constructed.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

New rules will focus on quake-resistance standards, require better inspection

TAIPEI • Taiwan's Premier yesterday pledged to change the island's safety laws after more than 100 people were killed when an earthquake earlier this month toppled an apartment complex thought to have been weakened by shoddy construction.

In the first sitting of Taiwan's Parliament since the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) swept to victory in elections last month, Dr Chang San-cheng said his Cabinet's priority was to improve disaster prevention.

Many residents of the 17-storey Wei-guan Golden Dragon apartment complex in the southern city of Tainan were buried in rubble after the 6.4-magnitude quake struck on Feb 6.

The death toll stood at 117 as workers on Thursday recovered the body of the last person still listed as missing after the collapse.

A team excavated the body of a homeless woman, Ms Lin Han-fei, who appeared to have been sleeping next to a column of the building when the quake struck before dawn, said Ms Ellen Hsueh, a spokesman for the city.

The steel and concrete building came down with such force that Ms Lin's body was found more than 2m below the surface, Ms Hsueh added.

Rescue efforts at the site at first stopped on Saturday last week. Officials said everyone who was inside the building at the time of the quake had been accounted for.

But Tainan Mayor Lai Ching-te later ordered a special excavation effort to find Ms Lin after police officers said she often slept next to one column of the building and closed-circuit video indicated she might have been there on the night of the quake.

There has been growing anger over accusations that the building was shoddily constructed, after photos of rubble at the site showed that foam and tin cans were used as filling in the concrete structures. Prosecutors said there were flaws in the building, including inadequate steel reinforcement bars.

The developer of the 24-year-old building and two of his associates have been charged with criminal business misconduct resulting in fatalities.

Dr Chang said the Building Act would be amended to "enhance quake-resistance standards of buildings, to improve construction quality control, and to strengthen the authorities' responsibility of inspection".

Amendment Bills on the Act and two other laws relating to the disaster would be sent to Parliament and voted on by lawmakers "as soon as possible", Dr Chang said.

The government will also offer subsidies for old buildings that require quake-resistance improvement, he added.

The families of each person who died in the tragedy will receive NT$3 million (S$126,500) from the government, and each injured person will receive between NT$200,000 and NT$750,000.

Dr Chang is a member of the defeated Kuomintang (KMT) party. He will be stepping down with his Cabinet when DPP chairman Tsai Ing-wen assumes the presidency on May 20.

The DPP now has a majority in Parliament, with 68 out of 113 seats. The Beijing-friendly KMT's seats shrank from 64 to 35 after voters turned their backs on closer ties with China under the party's eight-year rule.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, NEW YORK TIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 20, 2016, with the headline 'Taiwan to tighten building safety laws'. Print Edition | Subscribe