| 14.3°C Belfast

Dozens killed in fire at South Korean construction site

Officials are investigating the cause of the fire, which was possibly triggered by an explosion.

Close

Smoke rises from a construction site in Icheon (Hong Ki-won/Yonhap via AP)

Smoke rises from a construction site in Icheon (Hong Ki-won/Yonhap via AP)

Smoke rises from a construction site in Icheon (Hong Ki-won/Yonhap via AP)

At least 38 people have been killed after one of South Korea’s worst fires in years broke out at a construction site near the capital.

Officials said the death toll could rise because more people could be trapped inside the warehouse that was under construction in Icheon, just south of Seoul.

The blaze erupted early in the afternoon and hundreds of firefighters took several hours to put it out.

Images from the scene showed several fire engines and more than a dozen ambulances surrounding the badly damaged structure. Rescue workers in white protective suits were seen carrying out victims in body bags.

Close

Firefighters prepare to carry an injured worker on a stretcher (Hong Ki-won/Yonhap via AP)

Firefighters prepare to carry an injured worker on a stretcher (Hong Ki-won/Yonhap via AP)

AP/PA Images

Firefighters prepare to carry an injured worker on a stretcher (Hong Ki-won/Yonhap via AP)

Eight construction workers were being treated for serious injuries at nearby hospitals while two others were slightly hurt. Officials said about 30 workers managed to escape but at least one was unaccounted for.

Officials were investigating the cause of the fire, which was possibly triggered by an explosion while workers were working on an underground level at the site.

“There was no clothing left (on the workers) at all,” said Seo Seung-hyun, head of the Icheon fire department. “We presume that an ignition of oil mist caused an explosion and that the sudden combustion gave the workers no chance to escape.”

Mr Seo said victims who died on other floors probably inhaled toxic gas. He said more than 400 firefighters and rescue workers and about 120 vehicles were deployed to the scene.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in called for officials to mobilise “all available resources” in the search and rescue operation, while Prime Minster Chung Sye-kyun visited the site to inspect the efforts.

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.

Icheon was the site of another massive fire in 2008 when 40 workers died at a refrigerated warehouse.

Forty-six people died in 2018 when a fire ripped through a small hospital with no sprinkler systems in the southern city of Miryang.

PA