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Resort ignored snow clearing order

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Published : 2014-02-20 20:13
Updated : 2014-02-21 16:33

Authorities investigating a deadly gym collapse in Gyeongju said Thursday that the owner of the facility had ignored the city office’s demand to remove snow from the roof days before the accident.

Investigators at the North Gyeongsang police agency said they had secured statements from a Gyeongju city government official that he had told Mauna Ocean Resort by phone to clear the snow four days before the accident happened. Managers at the resort said they did not clear the snow, officials said.

The weight of the snow has been cited as a major cause for the roof collapse. The country’s eastern region, including the resort town of Gyeongju, has been hit by heavy snow for weeks.

The roof of the prefab building at the resort crumbled on Monday evening. There were 565 freshmen from Busan University of Foreign Studies attending a welcoming event inside when it collapsed. Most got out soon after, but around 100 were caught in the wreckage. The accident killed nine students and one party organizer. Two were seriously injured and 101 others sustained minor injuries, according to the government.

The police have launched investigations to identify the cause of the tragic cave-in, amid mounting suspicions that the building was poorly built and that suitable construction materials were not used. The resort had not arranged any outside safety checks since the building was constructed six years ago, according to reports.

With reports pouring in on the possibility of fraudulent construction of the building, Prime Minister Chung Hong-won instructed officials to carry out a thorough investigation and strictly punish those responsible for the building collapse.

“(The government) should clearly determine the cause of the accident through a thorough and comprehensive investigation into the building’s construction and registration process, and strictly punish those who are responsible,” Chung said during an emergency meeting held before he left for Sochi, Russia. The prime minister will attend the closing ceremony of the Winter Olympic Games to be held in the Russian city on Sunday.

Chung also ordered the officials to disclose whether the operator of the building had safety checks on a regular basis and whether the facility had been poorly managed. He also requested that the Ministry of Land and Transport check the safety of all facilities nationwide built with pre-engineered sandwich panels.

The gym used a metal pre-engineered building system that made it more vulnerable to heavy loads, experts said. Its rafters were very weak although buildings using the PEB structure require sturdy rafters since they have no pillars.

The police also said they have recovered video recorded at that time of the accident. This will help the police to prove allegations raised by some witnesses that they had heard a disturbing sound from the ceiling some 50 minutes before the accident. An investigator, however, said that there were no signs that students responded to such a sound.

“The video showed that they were enjoying the party right before the accident happened,” he said. The police said they won’t release the video to the public, in consideration of the ongoing investigation and the families of the victims.

Earlier in the day, the first funeral for one of the victims was held in Busan. The funeral was held a day after the families agreed on an out-of-court settlement with Kolon Group, the owner of the resort and the building. The amount of the settlement was not released.

By Cho Chung-un (christory@heraldcorp.com)

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