Safety flaws suspected as cause of building collapse

By Korea Herald
  • Published : Feb 18, 2014 - 20:14
  • Updated : Feb 18, 2014 - 20:14
Police officers inspect a collapsed building at Manua Ocean Resort, Gyeongju, North Gyeongsang Province, Tuesday. The accident killed 10 and injured more than 100. (Yonhap)

The police and the prosecution on Tuesday launched a joint investigation into a deadly roof collapse in the Gyeongju, North Gyeongsang Province, that killed 10 and injured more than 100.

The ceiling of the prefab building, used as an auditorium, caved in at 9:06 p.m., Monday, under the weight of wet snow, according to government and police officials.

The student council of Busan University of Foreign Studies was hosting a welcoming event for freshmen at the gymnasium. There were 565 students in the building when it collapsed, the school said. Most got out soon after, but around 100 were caught in the wreckage.

On Tuesday morning, the Ministry of Security and Public Administration confirmed the deaths of nine students and one organizer. Two were seriously injured and 101 others sustained minor injuries.

With rescue operations nearing an end, the authorities said they had sent a team of investigators to the accident site to determine the cause of the collapse.

Concerns have escalated over alleged fraudulent construction of the building and a lack of safety measures. Reports by officials and experts stated that the possibility was high that the building was poorly built in the first place and should have been used as a storage facility, not a gymnasium, judging from the materials it was made from.

Reports also said that the building had not received any outside safety checks since it was built six years ago and there was no security guard at the scene of the accident. Heavy snow also remained on the roof for days, according to officials and witnesses. Regions along the country’s eastern coast were hit by a record snowfall this month.

President Park Geun-hye conveyed her condolences to families of the victims and ordered a thorough investigation into the accident.

“It is heartbreaking and sad to hear about the gymnasium collapse that took many lives overnight,” Park said during a Cabinet meeting. “I offer words of consolation to the families of the victims, and ask for the best efforts to take care of the injured and compensation matters.”

The president asked officials to conduct safety checks on public facilities in regions that were hit by heavy snow recently. The president also urged officials to improve measures to prevent such accidents from happening and check on plans for school field trips ahead of the new semester.

Prime Minister Chung Hong-won also instructed Security and Public Administration Minister Yoo Jeong-bok and National Emergency Management Agency Administrator Nam Sang-ho to make the utmost efforts to save lives.

“With heavy snow presumably being the cause of the accident, there needs to be a thorough safety check on all kinds of facilities, a fact-finding probe and measures to prevent a repeat once rescue operations are over and the situation is under control,” Chung said.

About 1,450 firefighters, police officers and soldiers were deployed overnight to save the victims buried under debris and twisted metal.

Rescue workers had difficulty reaching the scene because snow blocked the road leading to the Mauna Ocean Resort, which is in a remote mountain area. Kolon Group, a Korean textile giant, holds a controlling stake in the resort.

A student said a concert was underway inside the building and it took less than 10 seconds for the ceiling to fall.

“A lot of people rushed to the exit when the ceiling collapsed. Some were trampled. It was very chaotic,” he said.

He said he called emergency services, and rescue workers arrived at the scene about 20-30 minutes after the collapse.

Students were on a two-day orientation trip. Professors and other staff were not participating in the event because it was organized by the student council, the university said. Chung Hae-lin, the president of the university, issued an apology. The school will take all responsibility for the affected students, he said. Kolon Group also offered an apology, saying it is in talks with victims’ families over compensation.

By Cho Chung-un, Shin Hyon-hee