S Korea hospital fire: Witnesses describe 'frightening' scene, 'total chaos'

South Korean rescue workers remove the bodies of victims after a fire at a hospital building in Miryang on January 26, 2018.
PHOTO: AFP

Nearby residents have been sharing eye-witness accounts of the fire that broke out Friday morning at a hospital in Miryang, South Gyeongsang Province, both on social media and through news interviews.

"There was so much smoke that it was hard for people to approach (the building)," said one passerby in an interview with a local television news outlet. "Even from 10 meters away, it was frightening."

The fire occurred around 7:30 a.m. at Sejong Hospital's emergency room and quickly spread to other parts of the hospital, according to authorities.

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 death toll rose to 41 as of 12:52 p.m. All 94 patients of the hospice adjacent to the hospital are thought to have been evacuated safely.

"My father works at Sejong Hospital's funeral hall," said a Twitter user. "I went there myself and we all worked to evacuate the people at the hospice, but I still worry about the people inside the main hospital building."

"Sejong Hospital is located right in front of my house," said an Instagram user. "It's a hospital that's five minutes away. My parents would go if they got ill. I can't stop crying," the user added.

"My mother is at the site and she says it is total chaos," another Twitter user said.

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