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(3rd LD) At least 38 workers killed in fire at warehouse construction site

National 22:50 April 29, 2020

(ATTN: RECASTS headline, lead to update number of casualties; ADDS more details throughout; CHANGES photo)

ICHEON, South Korea, April 29 (Yonhap) -- At least 38 workers were killed and 10 others injured Wednesday in a fire at a warehouse construction site near Seoul, fire authorities said.

The fire occurred at the four-story structure in Icheon, 80 kilometers southeast of Seoul, around 1:32 p.m., according to firefighters. It was extinguished at around 6:42 p.m.

The number of casualties may increase as the whereabouts of the majority of 78 people believed to have been working at the time of fire are not confirmed.

Icheon is home to SK hynix Inc., the world's second-largest maker of DRAM chips, as well as a large number of warehouses and storage facilities for retailers.

Smoke billows from a warehouse construction site in the city of Icheon, southeast of Seoul, on April 29, 2020, where a fire broke out at around 1:32 p.m. the same day. (Yonhap)

Firefighters said the blaze started on the second underground level. They suspect that it was caused by an unexpected explosion during construction work involving urethane, a combustible chemical used for insulation work, and the installment of a freight elevator.

"The fire seems to have spread extremely quickly, with the victims apparently having been unable to evacuate at all during the fire," firefighters said.

Suh Seung-hyun, chief of the Icheon fire station, said oil droplets, generated during the urethane work, may have ignited due to an unspecified source of flame.

Witnesses said they heard bangs of explosion at least 10 times.

The warehouse appears to have no sprinklers or other safety equipment.

Police and fire fighters are investigating to determine the exact cause of the accident.

President Moon Jae-in ordered government officials to spare no effort for the search and rescue operation by mobilizing all available resources, according to Cheong Wa Dae spokesman Kang Min-seok.

Moon hosted an emergency meeting with his aides late at night and ordered thorough rescue operations and medical support for the injured.

The president voiced regret that another massive blaze occurred though the government drew up enhanced safety measures following fatal fires in 2017 and 2018.

"It is regrettable that a similar accident reoccurred. It means we've not learned the lesson from previous accidents," Moon was quoted as saying by Kang.

In December 2017, a fire at a sports center in the central city of Jecheon killed 29 people and wounded 40 others. One month later, a hospital fire occurred in the southeastern city of Miryang, killing 45 people and injuring 147 others.

Firefighters carry out a search and rescue operation at the site of a fire that broke out at a warehouse construction site in Icheon, Gyeonggi Province, on April 29, 2020. (Yonhap)

odissy@yna.co.kr
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