Defective wiring suspected cause of South Korea hospital fire: Police

PHOTO: Reuters

SEOUL - Defective wiring is suspected to have caused the deadly South Korean hospital fire that killed dozens and injured more than 150, police said, as public anger swelled over the country's worst fire disaster in a decade.

The huge blaze that erupted at the hospital in the southeastern city of Miryang on Friday (Jan 26) killed at least 38 people including 35 patients - mostly elderly women - and three medical staff.

The fire came only a month after 29 people were killed in an inferno at a fitness club in Jecheon, a disaster blamed on insufficient emergency exits, flammable building materials and illegally parked cars blocking access for emergency vehicles.

Authorities are still investigating the exact cause of the hospital fire but preliminary on-site inspection has suggested possible defects in the wiring in the first-floor ceiling of what used to be an office pantry.

"There were no traces of burns on the floor, but clear signs of fire spreading toward the bottom from the top," an official told a joint press briefing on Saturday evening.

"All the wires will be collected from the ceiling for a detailed analysis," the official said, a process which may take more than two weeks.

S Korea's worst fire disaster in a decade as blaze sweeps hospital

  • A huge fire tore through a South Korean hospital Friday killing at least 41 people, the government said, in the country's worst blaze for 15 years.
  • More than 80 others were hurt in the fire, which comes just weeks before thousands of athletes and foreign visitors are expected in the country for the Winter Olympics.
  • Videos posted on social media showed a patient hanging on to a rope dangling from a helicopter above the hospital in Miryang, in the far south, and another crawling out of a window to climb down a ladder.
  • The six-storey structure housed a nursing home as well as the hospital.
  • The death toll rose rapidly throughout the morning, as those initially pulled from the blaze succumbed to their injuries.
  • By lunchtime, it had hit 41, according to the presidential Blue House.
  • All the patients had been brought out, he said, adding that evacuating 15 sick people from the intensive care unit on the third floor took longer as firefighters had to wait for medical staff to supervise the process.
  • All those who died were in the hospital, he said.
  • "Many victims were from the first and second floors of the hospital... some died on their way to another hospital," he said.
  • Video footage and pictures showed the building engulfed by thick, dark smoke and surrounded by multiple fire trucks.
  • Survivors were brought out wrapped in blankets, and firefighters picked their way through the blackened shell of the building after the blaze was extinguished.
  • Jang Yeong-Jae, a surviving patient, said he was on the second floor when nurses screamed "Fire!" in the hallway and urged people to leave through the emergency exits.
  • "Everybody was running around in panic, falling over and screaming as smoke filled the rooms," he was quoted as saying. Jang tore open window screens and escaped on a ladder erected by firefighters.
  • "There were so many aged patients on other floors... I wonder if they escaped safely," JoongAng quoted Jang's wife as saying.
  • Friday's accident is South Korea's worst fire disaster since 2003, when an arson attack on a subway station in the southeastern city of Daegu killed 192 people.

The hospital did not have fire sprinklers as it was not large enough to be required to install them under local safety rules.

A memorial was set up at a city gymnasium for the victims, where more than 3,340 had come to pay their respects as of early Sunday (Jan 28).

President Moon Jae In visited the memorial to console grieving relatives and promised to improve safety regulations after inspecting the gutted hospital.

"I feel so devastated that a disaster like this keeps happening although the government has promised repeatedly to build a safe country," Moon said.

The tragedy has rattled residents of the sleepy city of Miryang, with black banners carrying messages of mourning hung along the main streets.

A shortage of space at funeral homes after the disaster forced many relatives to take the bodies of their loved ones to nearby cities.

At least six bereaved families have yet to find a funeral home two days since the accident, and the Miryang City Hall said it would provide space by on Monday.

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