Flags fly at half-mast as Taiwan mourns victims of deadly quake and families demand justice

Taiwan's national flag flies at half mast at the Taipei Songshan Airport on Feb 15, 2016.
Taiwan's national flag flies at half mast at the Taipei Songshan Airport on Feb 15, 2016.PHOTO: EPA

TAIPEI (AFP) - Flags flew at half-mast across Taiwan on Monday (Feb 15) as the island mourned more than 100 victims of a powerful earthquake who died when an apartment complex collapsed, as families demanded justice.

Many residents of the 16-storey Wei-guan complex in the southern city of Tainan were buried in rubble after last Saturday's 6.4-magnitude quake.

Rescuers called off the desperate search for survivors over the weekend as the missing were accounted for.

All but two of the 116 dead were from the building - more than 380 people were inside the complex on the night of the quake.

New year celebrations scheduled by government agencies were called off on Monday, and Tainan's government asked for the freezing of further assets belonging to the developer and architects of the building.

Anger is growing in Taiwan over accusations of shoddy building work - 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.

Frustrations were exacerbated after photos of rubble at the site showed foam and tin cans had been used as concrete fillers.

"The developer really had no conscience constructing such a building, he should be severely punished," Mr Liu Kun-min, whose brother, sister-in-law, and two sons were killed in the quake, told Apple Daily.

Tainan's city government on Monday sought to freeze TW$220 million (S$ million) in assets belonging to nine people - among them the developer, Lin Ming-hui, his shareholders, two architects and a contractor.

The government is acting on behalf of 93 families involved in the collapse.

Lin and architects Cheng Chin-kui and Chang Kui-pao, as well as a contractor linked to the building, already saw TW$30 million in assets frozen by Tainan district court last week at the request of the city government.

A further TW$10 million was frozen by the court at the request of a voluntary legal foundation acting for two families of the victims.

Mr Hsiao Po-jen, head of the city government's legal affairs, said on Monday that a family member of architect Cheng had been stopped trying to withdraw more than TW$10 million from his bank account.

Lin, Cheng and Chang are currently in custody, facing charges of professional negligence.

The quake struck before dawn on Feb 6, taking the lives of a wide cross-section of society who lived in the Wei-guan complex or were visiting their families there for the Chinese New Year holidays.

Victims ranged from a 10-day-old baby to a 75-year-old woman.