Chinese New Year marred by 'Tofu Building' tragedy

Rescue teams continue to look for survivors of the earthquake under the rubble of Wei Guan complex in southern Taiwan.

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    Rescue personnel raced to find survivors after a 17-storey building collapsed after an earthquake hit Tainan [Tyrone Siu/Reuters]
    Rescue personnel raced to find survivors after a 17-storey building collapsed after an earthquake hit Tainan [Tyrone Siu/Reuters]

    Tainan, Taiwan - Every half hour or so, someone offers you something. 

    As the rescue teams continue their efforts looking for survivors under the rubble of the Wei Guan complex in Tainan, southern Taiwan, a small community has sprung up around the edges beyond the cordon tape. 

    Groups of volunteers appear, handing out hot food and drinks to rescuers, media and local people, still trying to come to terms with Saturday morning's quake. 


    READ MORE: Powerful earthquake rocks southern Taiwan


    On Saturday night, as darkness fell and the temperature plummeted - making conditions tougher for rescuers and more hazardous for those awaiting rescue - a soldier manning the perimeter handed me one of his small hand warming bags that he had just been issued with.

    The arrival of Chinese Lunar New Year has been overshadowed by this tragedy - but it has probably contributed to the spirit of communal effort here. 

    It is at times like this that Taiwan's plucky can-do streak manifests itself. 

    The idea that everyone here is embarked on a common goal. And with people trapped below the rubble, this particular challenge is literally a matter of life and death.


    IN PICTURES: The aftermath of Taiwan's deadly tremor


    There is also a fiery, quick-tempered side to the Taiwanese character that you see when people talk about the builder of this complex. 

    "Why did it collapse so quickly," they say in disbelief, "when others are still standing?"

    It is called in the local Mandarin language a "Tofu Building", named after the soft jelly-like bean curd dish.  Like tofu, when the ground shook, this building simply toppled over with disastrous consequences.

    Many tough questions will be asked of the contractor responsible, and of the authorities who oversee construction standards in this earthquake prone zone. 

    For the moment, it's the generosity of spirit and selflessness that you see most in evidence as another change of crews move past our position at the edge of the site.

    Sunday is Lunar New Year's eve. 

    Families all over Taiwan are busy preparing their homes to welcome in the New Year with large family dinners. 

    Not the people here.

    Their focus is the blocks that used to be home to the residents of Wei Guan - and trying to determine what has become to more than 100 of them still unaccounted for.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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