Prosecutors in the southern Taiwan city of Tainan have issued an arrest warrant for the developer of a building which collapsed during an earthquake on Saturday killing at least 39 people, a government official said on Tuesday.

The quake struck at about 4 a.m. on Saturday (3.00 p.m. ET on Friday) at the beginning of the Lunar New Year holiday, with almost all the dead found in Tainan's toppled Wei-guan Golden Dragon Building. Two others died elsewhere in the city.

Rescue efforts, increasingly becoming a recovery operation, have focused on the wreckage of the 17-storey building, where more than 100 people are listed as missing and are suspected to be buried deep under the rubble.

Questions have been raised about the building's construction quality, especially materials used to build it.

Liu Shih-chung, Tainan city government deputy secretary general, said an arrest warrant had been issued for Lin Ming-hui, the Wei-guan Golden Dragon Building's developer, and two others.

Reuters witnesses at the scene of the collapse have seen large rectangular, commercial cans of cooking-oil packed inside wall cavities exposed by the damage, apparently having been used as building material.

Taiwan media has also reported the presence of polystyrene in supporting beams, mixed in with concrete.