Bravery, loss and hope: Life after Taiwan waterpark tragedy

3 min

Taipei (AFP)

Huang Po-wei trains five times a week with a coach, crunching out 300 sit-ups and pulling on weights -- all in anticipation of the day when he can strap on a new pair of legs.

The 23-year-old engineering student was among the most severely burned victims in a Taiwan waterpark explosion last June, which killed 15 and injured hundreds at a "colour party".

Huang's life changed forever that night, when a blast ripped through the crowd of around 1,000 people as coloured corn starch sprayed on young partygoers ignited.

Almost a year on, events organiser Lu Chung-chi was jailed Tuesday for four years and 10 months over the disaster.

But Huang does not want to dwell on the past -- instead he has decided to rebuild his life.

With more than 90 percent burns, he opted to have both his legs amputated from below the knee and later his right arm to save himself from infection. He spent more than 200 days in hospital.

The ambitious student would have graduated from Ming Chi University of Technology in New Taipei City this spring. His studies are on hold, but Huang says there is no time for self-pity.

"The strength and exercise training I'm doing now is to prepare for prosthetics," he told AFP after a rehabilitation session in Taipei.

"Maybe it's not something I can do today and see results tomorrow. But as long as I work hard at it, there will be some progress," said Huang, his face and neck still marked by raw pink burns.

"It was my choice to have the amputation. Since I chose to go down this road, I don't have a reason to quit."

- Parents' struggle -

More than 200 were left seriously injured and while all have now been discharged from hospital, many make return trips for surgeries and treatments.

As parents struggle to cope with grief and their children's injuries, some are throwing themselves into a campaign for justice -- they say the maximum five-year sentence for negligence causing death is not long enough and also want to see others brought to court over the blast.

"We feel prosecutors didn't take the stance of seeking justice for the people. We can't accept that," said Su Jin-fa, 60, whose 23-year-old son Su Chia-sheng died in the tragedy.

"These for-profit businesses putting on large-scale events aren't placing enough importance on public safety."

Still in deep mourning, he says staying focused on the case and his Buddhist faith are helping.

"After all, there's still a long life to be lived," he said.

But the loss is a heavy burden.

"My son's death is like taking away half of my life," said Su.

- 'New life' -

The road ahead for Huang is tough, having to relearn the most simple skills or movements.

But he insists on doing it himself when he can -- eating with a utensil strapped to his bound left hand, browsing his phone with a touch pen, using a wheelchair to get around.

He has even taken trips on the subway.

"I was never afraid of how people would look at me," Huang said.

"I don't see why I have to hide away at home."

Physically, it will be a long while before Huang is ready to use prosthetics. However, he has already done some research into the kind he wants -- ones that can enable him to jump and run once more.

"All of this hard work is so I can stand up again," he says,

"And when I can stand up again, I can welcome a new life."