Taiwan water park party organiser jailed for blast that killed 15

Mr Huang working out at a recovery centre in Taipei. He has decided to rebuild his life and not dwell on the past. Despite his amputations, he insists on doing what used to be simple tasks whenever he can. He eats with a utensil strapped to his bound
Mr Huang working out at a recovery centre in Taipei. He has decided to rebuild his life and not dwell on the past. Despite his amputations, he insists on doing what used to be simple tasks whenever he can. He eats with a utensil strapped to his bound left hand, browses his phone with a touch pen and gets around in a wheelchair.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Protesters say sentence of four years and 10 months is too short; many victims still undergoing painful treatment

TAIPEI • Mr Huang Po-wei trains five times a week with a coach, crunching out 300 sit-ups and pulling on weights - all in anticipation of the day when he can strap on a new pair of legs.

The 23-year-old engineering student was among the most severely burnt victims in a water park explosion in Taiwan in June last year which killed 15 people and injured hundreds at a "colour party".

The organiser of the Colour Play Asia party, Lu Chung-chi, was yesterday found guilty of negligence causing death and jailed for four years and 10 months. The charge carries a maximum five-year jail term, which the families of some victims find too short.

Lu was behind the event at which coloured corn starch was sprayed on around 1,000 partygoers and ignited under the heat of stage lights, sending them running for their lives.

Almost 500 people were injured in the blast at Formosa Fun Coast in New Taipei, more than 200 of them seriously.

Horrific video footage showed revellers - mostly aged between 18 and 25 - screaming as they tried to escape the raging flames.

Some were left with more than 90 per cent burns, in some cases leading to amputations. For some survivors, only the parts of their bodies covered by swimsuits were not burnt.

Although all have now been released from hospital, many of them - like Mr Huang - are still enduring painful rehabilitation treatments and surgery.

With more than 90 per cent burns, Mr Huang opted to have both his legs amputated from below the knee and later his right arm to save himself from infection.

He spent more than 200 days in hospital.

The ambitious student would have graduated from Ming Chi University of Technology in New Taipei City this spring. His studies are on hold, but Mr Huang said there is no time for self-pity.

"The strength and exercise training I'm doing now is to prepare for prosthetics," he said after a rehabilitation session in Taipei.

"Maybe it's not something I can do today and see results tomorrow. But as long as I work hard at it, there will be some progress," said Mr Huang, his face and neck still marked by raw pink burns.

Yesterday, a group of 50 rallied outside the court, waving banners reading: "Return Justice and Fairness to Me."

"Four years and 10 months is too little," said Ms Julie Wang, spokesman for a victims' association, referring to the party organiser's jail sentence. Her 21-year-old son suffered 55 per cent burns.

For Mr Huang, he has decided to rebuild his life and not dwell on the past. Despite his amputations, he insists on performing whenever he can what used to be simple tasks to him. Today, he eats with a utensil strapped to his bound left hand, browses his phone with a touch pen and uses a wheelchair to get around.

He has even taken trips on the subway.

Physically, it will be a long while before Mr Huang is ready to use prosthetics. However, he has already done some research into the kind he wants - ones that can enable him to jump and run once more.

"All of this hard work is so I can stand up again," he said.

"And when I can stand up again, I can welcome a new life."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 27, 2016, with the headline 'Water park party organiser jailed for blast that killed 15'. Print Edition | Subscribe