A huge fire tore through a South Korean hospital on Friday killing at least 37 people, the government said, in the country’s worst blaze for a decade.
Around 130 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.
While South Korea has risen to become the world’s 11th-largest economy, some of its infrastructure was built rapidly and it has a history of preventable disasters.
It was the country’s second major blaze in a month, and officials admitted there was no sprinkler system installed at the hospital.
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 death toll rose rapidly throughout the morning as some of those initially pulled from the blaze succumbed to their injuries. At one point the presidential Blue House put it at 41, before authorities lowered it to 37, blaming double-counting.
Three of the dead were medical staff, officials said.
‘Two nurses said they had seen fire suddenly erupting in the emergency room,’ said fire chief Choi Man-Woo.
The six-storey structure housed a nursing home as well as the Sejong Hospital, and around 200 people were inside when the fire broke out according to police.
All the dead were in the hospital, Choi 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.
South Korean president Moon Jae-In called an emergency meeting with advisers, and demanded an immediate probe into the cause of the blaze.
The fire came only a month after 29 people were killed in an inferno at a fitness club in the South Korean city of Jecheon – a disaster blamed on insufficient emergency exits, flammable finishing materials and illegally parked cars blocking access to emergency vehicles.
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