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37 Dead in South Korea Hospital Fire


A firefighter stands on debris at a burnt hospital in Miryang, South Korea, Jan. 26, 2018.

A fire, described as South Korea's deadliest in about a decade, raced through a hospital Friday, leaving at least 37 people dead. The death toll, revised from an earlier figure of 41, is expected to rise. Three of the dead are medical staff, according to officials, who also say many of the dead suffered smoke inhalation.

At least 140 people were injured, some critically, when the blaze broke out in the emergency room of Sejong Hospital in the southeastern city of Miryang. Officials say the six-story hospital was not equipped with a sprinkler system as it was not required under current law.

People look at a list of casualties near a burnt hospital in Miryang, South Korea, Jan. 26, 2018.
People look at a list of casualties near a burnt hospital in Miryang, South Korea, Jan. 26, 2018.

News reports say around 200 patients were inside the building and a nearby nursing home at the time, but that all 94 elderly patients in the nursing ward were evacuated safely.

Video and photos taken at the scene showed thick, dark smoke engulfing the hospital as several fire trucks surrounded the structure. Firefighters climbed ladders to get to upper floors to reach some patients, carrying some on their backs, while other patients used escape slides to flee the blaze. A city official told the Reuters news agency many patients "walked through fire and smoke" to get out of the burning hospital. It took firefighters about three hours to extinguish the flames.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in held an emergency meeting of his top aides, urging them to provide necessary medical equipment to the people who were rescued.

FILE - Firefighters rescue a patient from a burnt hospital in Miryang, South Korea, Jan. 26, 2018.
FILE - Firefighters rescue a patient from a burnt hospital in Miryang, South Korea, Jan. 26, 2018.

A presidential spokesman said Moon expressed his "regret and sadness" about the fire.

South Korea's Yonhap news agency said that "in a rare show of unity," opposition and ruling senior officials went to Miryang to offer their condolences to the victims and their families.

The cause of the blaze is under investigation.

In late December, 29 people lost their lives in a fire that tore through an eight-story building in the South Korean city of Jecheon. It was the country's deadliest blaze in the past decade before Friday's hospital blaze.

The hospital fire comes as South Korea prepares to host the Winter Olympics next month in the city of Pyeongchang.

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