South Korea agonises over latest tragedy as it probes hospital blaze

  • South Korea agonises over latest tragedy as it probes hospital blaze

South Korea agonises over latest tragedy as it probes hospital blaze

A massive fire gutted the ground floor of a hospital in South Korea on Friday and sent toxic fumes raging through the six-storey building, killing at least 37 people and injuring 131 others in one of the country's deadliest blazes in a decade.

The blaze is suspected to have started in the emergency room on the first floor of Sejong Hospital in the southeastern city of Milyang, South Korean news agency Yonhap reported.

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.

The presidential Blue House initially said the fire killed at least 41, but then deferred to the city's fire chief who put the death toll at 37. He ordered officials to supports to those rescued, find the exact cause of the fire and work out measures to prevent future fires, said his spokesman Park Su-hyun.

Fire officials posted a list of at least 26 victims outside the hospital, their ages ranging from 34 to 96 years, with at least a score over 70.

At least 177 patients - a lot of them elderly - were at the hospital and an adjacent nursing home when the fire broke out, hospital director Song Byeong-Cheol said at a press briefing.

According to authorities, the fire began at about 7:30 Sejong Hospital in the southern city.

Choi Man-wu, a local fire official, said firefighters rescued trapped patients through second-floor windows, carrying some to safety on their backs.

By Friday afternoon, police had cordoned off the hospital, as forensic investigators moved in.

There have been several deadly fires in South Korea, which has a large elderly population, in recent years.

Two doctors and nine nurses were working in the emergency room at the time of fire, but their fates weren't immediately known.

Hospital director Son Gyeong-cheol admitted there was no sprinkler system in the building.

A number of South Korean lawmakers also visited survivors and toured the scene.

On a wall at a funeral home next to the hospital, officials had scrawled a handwritten list of names and hospital rooms as family members crowded around to look.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in called an emergency meeting with advisers and demanded an immediate probe into the cause of the blaze.

In December, 29 people were killed in a blaze at an eight-storey fitness centre in Jecheon City, majority women trapped in a sauna.

In 2014, a fire at a rural hospital killed 21 people, while a 2008 warehouse fire outside Seoul killed 40.