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(LEAD) 18 dead, 24 injured in fire at gym building

All Headlines 20:21 December 21, 2017

(ATTN: UPDATES with more info throughout)

JECHEON, South Korea, Dec. 21 (Yonhap) -- Eighteen people died and dozens more were injured in a fire that engulfed a commercial building in the southern city of Jecheon on Thursday, firefighters said.

The fire started from a vehicle in the basement parking lot of an eight-story building in the city, 168 kilometers southeast of Seoul, according to the authorities. The building houses a fitness center, restaurants and a public sauna.

Sixteen of the the victims, including a 50-year-old woman surnamed Kim, were found dead, trapped in the sauna on the second floor, they said.

Another group of people were moved to a hospital after inhaling smoke, but they were reportedly not in critical condition, according to the firefighters.

Some 20 others were rescued from the rooftop where they were taking refuge from the fire.

About 49 fire engines and trucks as well as 60 firefighters were sent to the scene along with two firefighter helicopters.

The fire was largely put out and firefighters have started to search the inside of the building, but unusually heavy smoke and toxic gas from the fire are delaying the rescue operation, the authorities said.

They said the death toll could possibly increase as the rescue work continues.

(LEAD) 18 dead, 24 injured in fire at gym building - 1

Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon paid an emergency visit to the Ministry of the Interior and Safety and directed officials to "make utmost efforts for speedy rescue and firefighting operations."

(LEAD) 18 dead, 24 injured in fire at gym building - 2


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