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Thursday, September 23, 1999 Published at 17:01 GMT 18:01 UK

World: Asia-Pacific

Quake investigation for Taiwan builders

International rescue teams continue their work amid fading hopes

Taiwanese authorities have made their first arrest in a nationwide crackdown on shoddy building standards, following thousands of deaths in this week's earthquake.

Quake in Taiwan
Hopes are fading for people still buried under the rubble, although the authorities have said fewer people may be trapped than previously thought.

Building contractor Liu Tai-han was arrested on Thursday, accused of breaking building regulations in the construction of a high-rise residential building.

Taiwan's director of prosecutions told the BBC that the arrest was part of a nationwide investigation into the building industry, launched in response to the disaster.

He said allegations that substandard buildings had aggravated the effects of the earthquake were being treated very seriously.

Local reports say hundreds of engineers, architects and other industry figures have been summoned for questioning by the authorities in the last 24 hours.

Mr Liu's company was responsible for building several apartment blocks in Yunlin county in central Taiwan, one of the areas worst affected by the quake, which measured 7.6 on the Richter scale.

Several people died in the high-rise building cited in his arrest.

China help on hold

[ image: Only a handful of survivors have emerged from the ruins since Wednesday]
Only a handful of survivors have emerged from the ruins since Wednesday
The Taiwanese Government has reacted coolly to an offer from mainland China to send rescue and medical teams to help victims of the quake.

The Taiwanese authorities said they appreciated China's offer of help and would call upon it if it was needed.

A spokesman, Jan Jyh-horng, said Taiwan was not treating Beijing any differently from other countries which had offered help.

He said 17 countries were already assisting with the search and recovery operation and others were standing by.

The spokesman said it remained to be seen whether Beijing's offer to help in the crisis would lead to a warming of ties.

Missing people 'out of danger'

The BBC's James Robbins: "Some districts are still cut off"
The number of people feared lost in the rubble fell sharply to 424 from more than 2,500, as authorities accounted for those stranded in inaccessible places.

The Interior Ministry said 2,207 people were cut off from rescuers in remote areas but were now believed to be out of imminent danger. A further 210 people were listed as missing.

"We now have two categories, those who are buried and those who are trapped," a ministry official said.

"Those in the trapped category do not face life-threatening danger. We could get them all out if we had enough helicopters."

The death toll stands at 2,106, with 7,821 injured. About 100,000 people have been left homeless.

In some remote areas, no help arrived until Wednesday as roads were blocked by landslides.

Hopes diminished

[ image: Damaged buildings are at risk from aftershocks]
Damaged buildings are at risk from aftershocks
International rescue teams, using sniffer dogs and heat-seeking equipment, are continuing to search through wrecked buildings.

At least two people were found alive on Thursday, but rescuers said there was now little hope of digging out further survivors.

Their efforts have been hampered by continuing aftershocks.

There have been more than 2,000 tremors since the initial earthquake.

Some have measured as high as 6.8 and have been ranked as serious quakes in their own right.

Seismologists say the tremors are diminishing in power, but they still pose a danger to already weakened structures.

Tuesday's quake is thought to have been the strongest to hit the island this century.

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