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(3rd LD) S. Korea striving to identify workers killed in warehouse fire

All News 17:43 April 30, 2020

(ATTN: UPDATES with police raid in 10-11 paras)

ICHEON, South Korea, April 30 (Yonhap) -- Police on Thursday strived to identify some of the 38 construction workers killed in a warehouse fire in Icheon, south of Seoul, after wrapping up a search and rescue operation in one of the country's deadliest blazes in years.

The fire, which injured 10 others, two of them seriously, engulfed a four-story building under construction in Icheon, 50 kilometers southeast of Seoul, on Wednesday afternoon and was put out five hours later.

Firefighters brought in excavators to search every corner of the warehouse as they tried to make sure there were no missing victims remaining in the wreckage. The overnight search and rescue operation continued till early Thursday.

Through fingerprint tests, the police confirmed the identities of 29 of the 38 deceased, mostly construction workers, but the remaining nine have yet to be identified, as their bodies were burned beyond recognition.

Police collected DNA samples from the nine victims and sent them to the National Forensic Service for DNA tests for final identification. The results are expected to be available in the next two days, officials said.

According to the police tally of the confirmed deaths, the death toll includes one Chinese, two Kazakhstan workers and Koreans.

Of the 10 injured, eight were in serious condition, while the two others sustained minor injuries.

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.

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

As the rescue and search operation wound up early Thursday, police, firefighting authorities and the National Forensic Service launched a joint investigation to determine the exact cause of the fire.

As part of the investigation, police said they have raided the headquarters of a construction company.

Police said they will examine a blueprint to determine whether construction was duly conducted and if there was any violation of safety standards.

Authorities believe the fire started on the second underground floor during construction work involving urethane, a combustible chemical used for insulation work, and the installation of a freight elevator.

The city's emergency relief team plans to set up a joint memorial altar for the victims as soon as the identification process is completed, officials said.

A firefighting operation is under way at a warehouse construction site in Icheon, Gyeonggi Province, on April 29, 2020. (Yonhap)

Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun convened a meeting of government ministers Thursday to discuss the government's response to the disaster.

"We need to find a more practical solution in order to prevent the recurrence of a fire at a construction site," the prime minister noted.

He called for a thorough investigation into the cause of the recent fire and whether safety requirements were followed at the construction site.

"Above all, I pray that all the victims from the fire rest in peace and express my sincere condolences to their families," Chung said, vowing government support for the victims.

He also directed officials to set up a task force composed of authorities and private experts to come up with a set of solutions for the prevention of deadly fires.

Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun (L) speaks during a meeting with government ministers on April 30, 2020 on a deadly warehouse fire a day earlier. (Yonhap)

pbr@yna.co.kr
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