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Boardinghouse Fire Claims Seven Lives

Posted July. 26, 2008 03:30,   


A fire broke out in an accommodation facility in Yongin City, 40 kilometers south of Seoul, killing seven people and injuring 11 others, police said. The death toll and casualties were high because a maze of corridors in the building kept firefighters from reaching the victims. Each of the 66 rooms on the floor is about 6 square meters. Most of the victims were low-income earners who stayed away from their families to work at construction sites or restaurants.

○ Start and extinguishing of the fire

The fire broke out around 1:25 a.m. Friday on the ninth floor of the 10-story building. Most of the victims were sleeping at the time. A superintendent of the boardinghouse called 119 and the fire was extinguished at around 2:05 a.m. by firefighters.

Seven victims were pronounced dead including Lee Yeong-seok, 37, after inhaling toxic gases while asleep.

Seven others including Lee Cheol-gyun, 45, were sent to a nearby hospital for treatment, but two including Lee are said to be in a critical condition. Five others with slight injuries returned home after receiving treatment.

The fire reportedly started in a vacant room on the floor. Arson is suspected to have caused the fire, given that there is a trace of fire at another vacant room on the same floor, according to the police.

Lee Myeong-gyun, a senior investigator of Gyeonggi Provincial Police Agency, said, “We are looking into the possibility of arson as well as an incidental fire. Police secured records from CCTV cameras installed on the first floor and the elevator and are now analyzing them.”

○ Bereaved families mourn deaths of their beloved family

A 63-year-old mother of the late Lee Yeong-seok was stunned at the death of her son who disappeared a decade ago.

She lost contact with her son after he left home 10 years ago. After receiving her son’s tickets in violation of traffic rules sent to his home last week, the mother knew he was in Yongin.

She said she heard her son’s name on TV when she was about to leave home to her son`s residence. She grieved, saying that, “His brothers didn’t easily recognize him due to the long separation, but I knew at the first sight when I found the scar and a mole behind his ear.”

Lee Cheol-su, 44, who was killed by the fire is the brother of Lee Cheol-kyun, 42. They are Chinese citizens who came to Korea in February this year for work. They had worked at construction cites, living at the boardinghouse since then. When they knew they were engulfed in flames, they ran outside the room, holding their hands. But due to thick smoke, they had to loosen their grip. That was the last time Lee saw his older brother.

Coming to consciousness in a hospital room, he heard about the death of his brother and wailed. He said, crying, “I couldn’t contact his wife and our family back in China. How can I tell them about this disaster?”

Lee Byeong-cheol, 38, worked at construction sites in the Pangyo New Town area in the past two months and is said to have recently changed his room at the accommodation facility. Previously, he lived in a room that is just a few meters away from the exit gate but about a week ago, he asked to move to another room with a window. His family was anguished at the news, saying, “He would have been alive unless he changed his room.”

Gwon Sun-hwan, 26, who was pronounced dead while being treated at the hospital, was the youngest among his siblings. His mother, who was anxiously waiting at the hospital, broke down and sobbed as a nurse delivered his clothes stained with smoke and soot.

His brother-in-law broke out tears and said, “Although he was the youngest in the family, he has struggled to financially help the family in the place of the father-in-law who died young.”

Jeong Chan-yeong, 26, had worked at a logistics firm to earn tuition fees since finishing his military service in 2006. His mother said, grieving, “I told him to stop working and return to study this fall, but he insisted on saving money enough to fund his study until graduation."

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