Fire kills at least seven at Seoul bud­get ho­tel

The Weekend Australian - - WORLD - SEOUL:

A fire that likely blocked a cru­cial exit at a low-cost dor­mi­tory-style hous­ing fa­cil­ity in cen­tral Seoul killed at least seven peo­ple and in­jured 11 oth­ers yes­ter­day.

Fire au­thor­i­ties were last night in­ves­ti­gat­ing pos­si­ble safety lapses in the build­ing.

The blaze had been ex­tin­guished, but it was pos­si­ble that the death toll could rise, of­fi­cials at the Seoul Met­ro­pol­i­tan Fire and Dis­as­ter Head­quar­ters said.

The fire prob­a­bly started near an exit door on the build­ing’s third floor, said Kwon HyeokMin, chief of Seoul’s Jongno Dis­trict Fire Sta­tion.

The res­i­dents were mostly labour­ers who made their liv­ing on day-to-day jobs.

“It was dawn and the exit door was likely blocked, so it would have been dif­fi­cult (for the res­i­dents) to es­cape,” Mr Kwon said.

An­other of­fi­cial from the Jongno sta­tion said the fa­cil­ity, which was built in 1983, did not have sprin­klers be­cause safety reg­u­la­tions can’t be retroac­tively ap­plied to older struc­tures. The of­fi­cial said it was un­clear whether the build­ing’s smoke de­tec­tors worked.

The fa­cil­ity, called “goshi­won” in Korean, is where poor work­ers re­ly­ing on con­struc­tion jobs or stu­dents pre­par­ing for bar ex­ams or civil ser­vice ex­ams stay in in­di­vid­ual rooms with tiny sleep and study spa­ces. Bud­get trav­ellers also of­ten stay in such fa­cil­i­ties.

South Korean me­dia re­ported that most of the vic­tims were man­ual labour­ers in their 40s to 60s. It wasn’t known whether any stu­dents or trav­ellers were stay­ing there.

The fa­cil­ity was lo­cated on the sec­ond and third floors of a three-storey build­ing, where the fire agency said all the vic­tims were found. Its first floor has restau­rants.

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.

Forty-six peo­ple died in Jan­uary when a fire ripped through a small hos­pi­tal with no sprin­kler sys­tems in the south­ern city of Miryang. It was the coun­try’s worst fire since 2008, when 40 peo­ple died at a re­frig­er­ated ware­house in In­cheon, near Seoul. Twenty-nine peo­ple were killed in a build­ing fire in Jecheon in De­cem­ber last year.


Fire­fight­ers at the ho­tel

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