(ATTN: ADDS comments, details in paras 6-10, 15)
GWANGJU, July 27 (Yonhap) -- A loft inside a nightclub in the southwestern city of Gwangju collapsed Saturday, killing two people and injuring more than 10, including athletes competing at the 18th FINA World Championships, city authorities said.
The Gwangju Fire and Safety Headquarters said the loft inside the nightclub collapsed around 2:30 a.m. and claimed the lives of two South Koreans. Authorities suspect the loft collapsed due to too much weight. Witnesses said there were about 100 people on the loft area, which was 2.5 meters above the lower floor.
Firefighters said 17 people were injured, including foreign athletes who came to Gwangju, some 330 kilometers south of Seoul, for the July 12-28 FINA World Championships.
So far, authorities confirmed that nine foreign athletes were injured -- four Americans, two New Zealanders, one Dutch, one Italian and one Brazilian. They are all water polo players except the Brazilian, authorities said, with six of them women.
Firefighters said their injuries are not severe, although some of them have underwent minor surgery after suffering lacerations.
According to the organizing committee of the competition, seven of the injured athletes were treated for minor injuries and returned to the athletes' village. One athlete is scheduled to get stitched up for a laceration later Saturday and then go back to the athletes' residence.
USA Water Polo confirmed that players from its men's and women's teams were at the club celebrating the women's world title from Friday evening.
"This is an awful tragedy. Our hearts go out to the victims of the crash and their families," said USA Water Polo chief Christopher Ramsey in a statement. "We are grateful to all those who lent assistance. All USA Water Polo athletes are safe and accounted for."
FINA, the international swimming governing body, said it was keeping close tabs on the situation and vowed to "activate all measures to ensure health care and assistance is provided whenever necessary."
"FINA deeply regrets the situation and sends its best wishes to any victims of this accident," it added.
Among the foreigners on the injured list also include two Uzbek men who were not athletes.
Local authorities believe dozens were injured from the collapse if those who suffered light bruises and scratches are included. There were about 370 people inside the nightclub when the collapse occurred, they said.
The authorities said some of the loft space inside the nightclub was illegally expanded without the city's authorization. Gwangju police said it will form a task force team to investigate the matter.
The municipal government of Gwangju and local organizing committee of the FINA Championships said they will give their utmost support to help athletes who sustained injuries from the incident.
The organizing committee added it has asked all participating national swimming federations to take care of their athletes' health and safety. The competition will conclude Sunday.
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