Before the Weiguan Jinlong building in Tainan’s Yongkang District (永康) collapsed in the earthquake before dawn on Saturday, a young couple living on the 14th floor had already been given a clue that the building was unsafe.
However, it came too late.
Chen Yi-ting and her husband bought the apartment five years ago. They had a small hiccup with the mortgage — the first bank they approached had declined their loan application without stating why — but they found another lender and moved in with their infant daughter.
Photo: Yang Chin-cheng, Taipei Times
Soon after, according to Chen’s mother, one of the couple’s friends, who had ties to the first bank, told them that it had a policy of refusing loans to residents of the 17-story building due to its poor construction.
Chen, 35, and her husband, 38, are now in intensive care in two separate hospitals. She has a cracked skull and he has damaged lungs.
Their seven-year-old daughter is dead.
Photo: Wang Chieh, Taipei Times
“People from outside of the town, people like them, had no idea what was going on before they moved in,” Chen’s mother said as she waited in a hospital corridor outside the intensive-care unit where her daughter is. “They did not know the building was completed by the second developer after the first one went bust. They only found out after they signed the contract.”
The 21-year-old building is at the center of rescue efforts after the magnitude 6.4 quake struck at 3:57am on Saturday, killing 38 people and leaving more than 120 still missing deep in the rubble.
It was the only major high-rise building in the city of 2 million people to have completely collapsed. Its lower stories, filled with arcades of shops, pancaked on top of each other before the entire U-shaped complex toppled in on itself.
Sixty-one-year-old Kuo (郭) said residents of the building had long complained of many problems before the quake, such as tiles falling from walls, malfunctioning elevators and blocked pipes.
The couple paid NT$3.5 million (US$104,415) for the apartment.
“We are simple people. We did not think it [the initial loan refusal] might have been for some other reason,” Kuo said.
Government officials say the building had obtained its construction permit legally and withstood the magnitude 7.3 quake that hit the nation on Sept. 21, 1999, which left 2,415 dead and 11,305 injured.
“In the city government’s record, there was nothing wrong with it,” Tainan Public Works Bureau head Wu Chong-rong (吳宗榮) said.
Hsu Yin-hsuan, an architect hired by the city government to investigate the collapse, said the government had spent money after the 1999 disaster to buttress official buildings so they would be better able to endure future quakes.
However, “nothing similar has been done to privately owned buildings,” Hsu said.
The Weiguan Jinlong building secured its construction licence in 1992 and building was completed in 1994, government records show.
Two main firms that built the tower, Weiguan Construction and Da Hsin Engineering, have since gone out of business.
People at the scene of the collapse saw large rectangular, commercial cans of cooking-oil packed inside wall cavities exposed by the damage, apparently having been used as building material.
This was a problem found in some of the buildings that collapsed in other parts of Taiwan in the 1999 quake. The destruction at that time revealed that cooking-oil cans had been used as filler inside the walls of some buildings.
Tainan Mayor William Lai said he had asked prosecutors to investigate and that the government had hired three teams of civil engineers to inspect the building’s structure.
“When it’s completed, we’ll punish those who should be held accountable,” he said.
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