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South Korea hospital fire kills dozens

by Reuters /  / Updated  / Source: Associated Press

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SEOUL, South Korea — A fire in a South Korean hospital which did not have a sprinkler system killed at least 37 people and injured at least 130 others, officials said Friday.

The fire started in Sejong Hospital's emergency room and had engulfed the first floor when firefighters arrived. They approached the second floor through the windows to rescue trapped patients, said Choi Man-wu, a fire official in the southeastern city of Miryang.

The fire is the country's deadliest in at least a decade, according to Yonhap news agency. South Korea, Asia’s fourth-largest economy, has faced criticism in recent years over inadequate safety standards.

Most of the dead had been hospitalized for respiratory diseases in an intensive-care unit, according to authorities.

Hospital director Song Byeong-cheol said the hospital did not have a sprinkler system and was not large enough to require one under South Korean law. He added that the hospital had regular safety inspections.

President Moon Jae-in convened an emergency meeting with top aides and called on the government to take "all necessary measures" to help survivors.

At least 177 patients — most of them elderly — were in the building when the fire broke out, according to Song.

South Korea is one of the fastest-aging countries in the world and has many nursing hospitals, which are preferred for elderly people who need long-term doctors' care.

Several recent fires in South Korea have been resulted in high death tolls.

In late December, 29 people were killed in a building fire in central Seoul, which was the country's deadliest blaze over the past decade before the hospital fire.

Last weekend, a fire at a Seoul motel killed six people, and police arrested a man who allegedly set it ablaze in anger because he had been denied a room for being heavily drunk.

In 2014, a fire set by an 81-year-old dementia patient killed 21 at another hospital for the elderly.

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