Why developers were arrested after an earthquake in Taiwan

Taiwan authorities have arrested Lin Minghui, saying shoddy building practices are to blame for 39 deaths. 

Annie Ho/AP
Rescue workers using excavators continue to search the rubble of a collapsed building complex in Tainan, Taiwan, Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2016. At least four people, including an 8-year-old girl, were rescued Monday from a high-rise Taiwanese apartment building toppled by a powerful quake two days earlier, as frustration grew among families waiting for searchers to reach their buried loved ones.

A Taiwanese developer is facing charges of negligent homicide after one of his buildings collapsed during an earthquake.

Three days after the 17-story Wei-Guan Golden Dragon apartment complex in the southern city of Tainan collapsed during a 6.4 earthquake, developer Lin Minghui of the Wei-Guan Golden Dragon Building in Tainan, Taiwan has been taken into custody. At least 39 people were killed in the collapse and over 100 are still missing in the rubble. 

The Tainan District Prosecutors Office said Lin and two of his associates, identified only by their surnames Chang and Cheng, were arrested Monday evening and they are being held without bail on suspicion of negligent homicide. 

Tainan residents began questioning the building’s structural integrity when the disproportionate casualties became clear. The earthquake’s epicenter was almost 30 miles south of Tainan, Taiwan’s oldest city with a population of 1.8 million. But outside of the Golden Dragon’s collapse, Taiwan’s official Central News Agency (CNA) reports only two casualties

“There are so many other buildings in Tainan that are still standing. Why was it only this building that was completely destroyed?” Wang Xingyou, a city cab driver, asks CNN. 

11 other buildings fell as a result of the quake, but Golden Dragon was the only high rise to collapse, CNA reports. 

“The building essentially collapsed onto itself,” Elise Hu, an NPR correspondent who was in Taiwan when the earthquake hit, told CNN. “When you see the aerial images around Tainan, the rest of the buildings are standing. But this particular apartment complex is as damaged as it is.” 

CNA suggests that “jerry-building,” a term for cheap and sketchy construction practices, “is believed to be one of the causes of the collapse.” 

Since construction was completed in 1994, several safety requirements have been implemented without any renovation or updates to the Golden Dragon. Rescue teams found tin cans lining the walls of the building, a practice that became illegal in 1999. 

Lin used legal loopholes to build the Golden Dragon far taller than the surrounding buildings. But if Lin were to legally build the apartment complex today, City Council member Lee Kunshan tells The New York Times, it would not be allowed to exceed four stories

And Lin had a reputation for cutting corners. 

“Locals never bought condos there because the builders did not have a good reputation – it was all outsiders who bought there,” Yang Yumin, who lives in a house across the street from the Golden Dragon, told the New York Times. 

After being involved in multiple business disputes, Lin reportedly changed his name four times over the years to salvage his reputation. Taiwanese police had difficulty finding Lin after the collapse, as the developer has a reputation for disappearing when his construction projects fail.   

Despite the arrests, rescue efforts carry on. 

“We absolutely will keep waiting – we cannot give up hope, we won’t let our hearts go,” a woman named Li told CNN regarding her 20-year-old nephew who has not been heard from since the collapse. “We never though something this terrible could happen to our beloved Tainan, and in the main city area – what are the chances?” 

Although no survivors have been discovered in the rubble since Monday evening, families hope their missing love ones will be found alive.

“We refuse to give up hope,” Lin Jianfang, an engineer whose brother is still missing in the debris, told CNN.

An investigation into the developer’s practices has begun, but officials decline to answer questions saying current rescue efforts should come first.

“First we’ll rescue people, and then we’ll issue a judgment,” said Lai Shu-hui, a deputy secretary general of the city.

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