South Korea construction site fire kills at least 38

Death toll likely to rise as more people believed to be trapped inside fire-stricken warehouse.

epa08390856 Firefighters after a fire engulfed a construction site for a distribution warehouse in Icheon, south of Seoul, South Korea, 29 April 2020. The fire, which broke out around 1:32 p.m. local
The blaze was possibly triggered by an explosion while workers were working on an underground level at the site [Yonhap/EPA]

A fire at a construction site in South Korea has killed at least 38 people and injured another 10, fire authorities have said.

The blaze broke out on Wednesday at a site where workers were building a warehouse about 80km (50 miles) southeast of the capital, Seoul. 

The death toll could rise because more people were believed to be trapped inside the warehouse, according to the authorities.

They said “rapid combustion” occurred while workers were working on an underground level of the warehouse.

epaselect epa08390623 Firefighters battle a fire at a construction site for a distribution warehouse in Icheon, south of Seoul, South Korea, 29 April 2020. The fire, which broke out around 1:32 p.m. l
Firefighters battle a fire at a construction site in Icheon, south of Seoul [Yonhap/EPA]

Images from the scene showed several firetrucks and more than a dozen ambulances surrounding the badly damaged structure, which was completely blackened and writhed 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, while two others were slightly hurt. 

Officials said about 30 workers managed to escape but at least four were unaccounted for or out of contact.

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 the sudden combustion gave the workers no chance to escape.”

Seo said victims who died on other floors likely inhaled toxic gas. 

South Korean President Moon Jae-in asked related ministries to do their utmost efforts in the search-and-rescue operation by mobilising all available resources, presidential blue house spokesman Kang Min-seok said.

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

Icheon was the site of another enormous 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.

epa08391001 Emergency services at the scene after a fire engulfed a construction site for a distribution warehouse in Icheon, south of Seoul, South Korea, 29 April 2020. The fire, which broke out arou
Icheon was the site of another enormous fire in 2008 when 40 workers died at a refrigerated warehouse [Yonhap/EPA]
Source: News Agencies