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Dozens Killed in South Korean Hospital Blaze

Firefighters work as smoke billows from a hospital in Miryang, South Korea on Jan. 26.Firefighters work as smoke billows from a hospital in Miryang, South Korea on Jan. 26.

Once famous for an award-winning film of the same name, the South Korean city of Miryang became a scene of horror on Friday as flames and toxic smoke swept through a hospital, killing at least 37 people and injuring more than 140.

South Korea’s deadliest fire in almost a decade followed one last month that killed 29 people, reviving concern over safety standards, as the hospital director said current law did not require the building to have a sprinkler system, Reuters reported.

“So many lives were sacrificed and the people of our city, as well as those throughout the country, have fallen into deep grief,” the city’s mayor, Park Il-ho, told reporters, appearing visibly distressed.

Many patients “walked though fire and smoke” to escape from the Sejong Hospital as the main exit was on the first floor, which was ablaze, a city official told Reuters.

Those on upper floors used ladders and plastic escape slides to flee, while firefighters carried some who could not walk.        

“I saw the elderly patients scrambling out through the windows and had to help,” said Woo Young-min, 25, as he stood in his pyjamas outside the hospital.

The presidential Blue House initially said the number of dead was at least 41, but deferred to a toll of 37 from the fire chief of Miryang, which is about 270 km (170 miles) southeast of Seoul, the capital, and home to about 108,000 people.

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.

Families crowded round a handwritten list of names and hospital rooms that officials had scrawled on a wall at a nearby funeral home.

The fire broke out around 7.30 am (2230 GMT) at the rear of the emergency room on the hospital’s first floor, fire official Choi Man-woo told a televised news briefing.

Woo said he was walking home after working a graveyard shift when he saw the fire and patients trying to escape the blaze.

“The firefighters were shouting at us not to go inside the building, so I stayed and helped others bring the patients down the slides.”

Television broadcast images of black smoke billowing from the windows and entrance of the hospital as flames flickered.

At least 177 patients—most of them elderly—were at the hospital and an adjacent nursing home when the fire broke out, hospital director Song Byeong-cheol told reporters.

 

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