TAIPEI – As rescuers in Taiwan said they had retrieved all the missing from the ruins of a building felled by an earthquake, a tragic picture emerged of the cross-section of society killed in the disaster.
The quake took the lives of 114 in the Wei-kuan apartment complex in the southern city of Tainan, from a 10-day-old baby to a 75-year-old woman.
Among the dead were a security guard, a mother-to-be, and the chair of the building’s management committee, the last body to be pulled from the rubble Saturday.
But it was the young who suffered most: A third of the victims were under 25-years-old.
Among them were a pair of university students reported to have been found in each other’s arms in the rubble.
Tsai Meng-chia and Huang Ro-hsin had been out singing karaoke to celebrate a friend’s birthday, returning to Wei-kuan just before the earthquake struck at 4 a.m. local time last Saturday, local media said.
Their fate was mentioned in a tribute by Taiwan’s president Ma Ying-jeou.
“It’s very, very saddening that two 21-year-old lives disappeared, just like that,” Ma said.
Although the building housed only 256 registered residents, there were more than 380 there on the night of the quake.
Many had joined their families for the start of the Lunar New Year holidays. Authorities said student tenants would also not have been on the official register.
Relatives told how their families had been all but wiped out by the disaster.
Survivor Lee Tsong-tian, 40, was the only one of eight family members to be pulled out alive after more than 50 hours, among the last residents to be rescued.
“Out of my family of eight, Tsong-tian was saved,” his sister Lee Su-tsu told reporters during a memorial service held for victims Friday.
“I hope they departed quickly without much pain,” she said.
Rescuers worked for 20 hours to free Lee, whose leg was trapped in the rubble. It was later amputated.
The mother of the 10-day-old baby who died told of her last moments with the child. Liu Yi-chen, a 38-year-old nurse, was breast-feeding in bed when the floor of the room caved in.
“The baby fell nearby, I heard her cry but I couldn’t reach her,” Liu said.
“The baby cried for an hour and then there was no voice.”
Liu also lost her husband and two other young children.
As the search operation ended Saturday, the focus now is to clear the rubble and disinfect the site, Tainan’s mayor William Lai said.
The building developer and two other associates are under investigation for professional negligence causing death and prosecutors have said the building had a number of flaws, including a lack of steel reinforcement bars.
Public anger has grown as residents told how they had complained of defects in the building and images of the rubble showed concrete had been filled with foam and tin cans.
Wei-kuan was the only high-rise to completely collapse in the 6.4-magnitude quake.