Taipei, Feb. 7 (CNA) The cooking oil cans found inside the pillars of a residential complex that collapsed in Tainan during an earthquake Saturday were there for aesthetic purposes and may not have been the cause of the collapse, a structural engineer has said.
Tai Yun-fa (戴雲發) was responding to CNA's questions on the fact that several cooking oil cans were exposed in the pillars of the 16-story Weiguan Jinlong building in Tainan City after it toppled during the magnitude 6.4 earthquake Saturday.
As of late Sunday afternoon, the death toll had risen to 26, with 24 of those deaths occurring at the Weiguan Jinlong site.
Dozens of people were still unaccounted for in Tainan and the city government said most of them were believed to be still trapped in the ruins of the building.
The Weiguan Jinlong residential complex, which comprised around 200 housing units, was built in the city's Yong Kang District in 1983 by a construction company that has since gone out of business.
Tai told CNA that in many buildings constructed before September 21, 1999, when a deadly magnitude 7.3 quake killed 2,415 people in Taiwan, cooking oil cans were used as fillers inside pillars to make them look bigger.
A pillar that supports a structure undoubtedly will be made of reinforced concrete, but an architect has to consider aesthetics as well as safety and may wish to enlarge the pillar without significantly increasing the weight, he said.
That was why the pillars of the Weiguan Jinlong complex had a layer of oil cans under the outer plaster to make them look thicker, Tai said.
The use of cooking oil cans for such purposes in construction was not illegal prior to September 1999, but since then styrofoam and formwork boards have been used instead, he said.
"It is preposterous" to think that cooking oil cans would be used in a pillar for support purposes, Tai said
When a building collapses in an earthquake, it is because of structural design problems and shoddy construction quality, he said.
Interior Minister Chen Wei-zen (陳威仁) has said the construction companies and contactors that worked on the Weiguan Jinlong building project are now defunct, but the government will seek to find who should be held responsible for the building's collapse if corners had been cut during its construction.
(By Wei Shu and Lilian Wu; click here for the full coverage of the earthquke aftermath.)