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17 April 2024

Defective wiring suspected cause of S. Korea hospital fire: police


Defective wiring is suspected to have caused the deadly South Korean hospital fire that killed dozens and injured more than 150, police said, as public anger swelled over the country's worst fire disaster in a decade.

The huge blaze that erupted at the hospital in the southeastern city of Miryang Friday killed at least 38 people including 35 patients -- mostly elderly women -- and three medical staff.

The fire came only a month after 29 people were killed in an inferno at a fitness club in Jecheon, a disaster blamed on insufficient emergency exits, flammable building materials and illegally parked cars blocking access for emergency vehicles.

Authorities are still investigating the exact cause of the hospital fire but preliminary on-site inspection has suggested possible defects in the wiring in the first-floor ceiling of what used to be an office pantry.

"There were no traces of burns on the floor, but clear signs of fire spreading toward the bottom from the top," an official told a joint press briefing on Saturday evening.

"All the wires will be collected from the ceiling for a detailed analysis," the official said, a process which may take more than two weeks.

The hospital did not have fire sprinklers as it was not large enough to be required to install them under local safety rules.

A memorial was set up at a city gymnasium for the victims, where more than 3,340 had come to pay their respects as of early Sunday.

President Moon Jae-In visited the memorial to console grieving relatives and promised to improve safety regulations after inspecting the gutted hospital.

"I feel so devastated that a disaster like this keeps happening although the government has promised repeatedly to build a safe country," Moon said.

The tragedy has rattled residents of the sleepy city of Miryang, with black banners carrying messages of mourning hung along the main streets.

A shortage of space at funeral homes after the disaster forced many relatives to take the bodies of their loved ones to nearby cities.

At least six bereaved families have yet to find a funeral home two days since the accident, and the Miryang City Hall said it would provide space by Monday.