Taiwan vows new safety laws after quake disaster

Workers clearing up the remains of a collapsed buiding in Tainan City, Taiwan.
Workers clearing up the remains of a collapsed buiding in Tainan City, Taiwan. PHOTO: EPA

TAIPEI (AFP) - Taiwan's premier pledged Friday (Feb 19) to change safety laws after more than 100 people were killed when an earthquake toppled an apartment complex thought to have been weakened by shoddy construction.

In the first sitting of Taiwan's new parliament since the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) swept to victory in elections in January, Chang San-cheng said his cabinet's priority was to improve disaster prevention.

Many residents of the 16-storey Wei-kuan complex in the southern city of Tainan were buried in rubble after the 6.4-magnitude quake on February 6. All but two of the 117 dead were from the building.

Anger has grown over accusations of shoddy building work, after photos of rubble at the site showed foam and tin cans had been used as filling in concrete structures.

Prosecutors have said there were flaws in the building including inadequate steel reinforcement bars, and the developer is among three men facing charges over the disaster.

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" Chang said.

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

"I offer my condolences to the 117 deceased and their families. I promise that the government will do what it can to help the victims to put the pain behind them and rebuild their homes," Chang said.

The family of each of those who lost their lives will receive Tw$3 million (S$127,000) from the government, with payments of Tw$200,000 to Tw$750,000 for the injured.

The premier belongs to the defeated Kuomintang (KMT) party and will step down alongside his cabinet when the DPP's 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 China ties under the party's eight-year-rule.