SEOUL - A fire tore through a hospice for the elderly in South Korea early Wednesday, killing 21 people - the latest in series of deadly accidents following last month's ferry disaster that claimed around 300 lives.
"We have recovered 21 bodies and seven people were injured, some of them in a serious condition," a fire department official told AFP from Jangseong County, about 190 miles (300 kilometres) south of Seoul.
Although the fire was brought under control within 30 minutes, the official said many elderly patients on the second floor of the hospice were bedridden and unable to escape in time.
"Most of them died as the result of smoke inhalation," he said.
TV reports cited local officials as saying only one nurse was on duty, caring for more than 70 people - including stroke victims and patients with Alzheimer's.
The nurse was also reportedly killed in the blaze.
The fact that most of the victims were sick and elderly will fuel debate about lax safety standards for vulnerable people following the Sewol ferry tragedy in which most of the victims were schoolchildren.
Seven people were injured in the hospice - with six in a critical condition, prompting fears the toll could rise.