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South Korea construction fire kills at least 38

Smoke rises from a construction site in Icheon, South Korea
Smoke rises from a fire that has killed dozens of workers at a construction site in Icheon, South Korea.
(Hong Ki-won / Yonhap )

At least 38 people were killed Wednesday when one of South Korea’s worst fires in years broke out at a construction site near the Asian nation’s capital, officials said.

They said the death toll could rise because more people were believed to be trapped inside the warehouse, which was under construction in Icheon, just south of Seoul.

The blaze erupted early Wednesday afternoon and took hundreds of firefighters several hours to put out. Images from the scene showed several firetrucks and more than a dozen ambulances surrounding the badly damaged structure, which was completely blackened on one side. Rescue workers in white protective suits were seen carrying out victims in body bags.

Eight construction workers were being treated for serious injuries at nearby hospitals; two others were slightly hurt. Officials said about 30 workers managed to escape but at least one was unaccounted for.

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Officials were investigating the cause of the fire, which was possibly triggered by an explosion while workers were working on an underground level at the site.

“There was no clothing left [on the workers] at all,” said Seo Seung-hyun, head of the Icheon fire department. “We presume that an ignition of oil mist caused an explosion and that the sudden combustion gave the workers no chance to escape.”

South Korean President Moon Jae-in called for officials to mobilize “all available resources” in the search and rescue operation, while Prime Minster Chung Sye-kyun, the country’s No. 2 official, visited the site to inspect the efforts.

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South Korea, one of Asia’s richest economies, has struggled for decades to improve safety standards and change widespread attitudes that treat safety as subsidiary to economic progress and convenience.

Icheon was the site of another massive fire in 2008 when 40 workers died at a refrigerated warehouse.

Forty-six people died in 2018 when a fire ripped through a small hospital with no sprinkler systems in the southern city of Miryang.


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