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Police investigate building collapsed during demolition in Gwangju

Emergency workers carry out recovery operations, Thursday, a day after a building collapsed in Gwangju, leaving nine people dead and eight others seriously injured. Yonhap
Emergency workers carry out recovery operations, Thursday, a day after a building collapsed in Gwangju, leaving nine people dead and eight others seriously injured. Yonhap

By Jun Ji-hye

Police have launched an intensive investigation into a building collapse at an urban renewal site in Gwangju that left nine people dead, forming a command center with the participation of the serious crime and economic crime units, police officers said, Thursday.

They also conducted a forensic examination of the scene, jointly with the National Forensic Service, in a bid to uncover the exact cause of the collapse.

The five-story building collapsed during demolition in the southwestern city at about 4:22 p.m., Wednesday, leaving nine people dead and eight others seriously injured. Those injured, who were mostly in their 60s and 70s, were taken to nearby hospitals, including Chonnam National University Hospital, according to rescue officers.

The 17 victims included the driver and passengers of a bus that was at a bus stop in front of the building at the time of the collapse. The building and the neighborhood behind it are being redeveloped, with plans for a large-scale apartment complex on the spot.

Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum speaks to reporters during his visit to the site of the collapsed building in Gwangju, Thursday. Yonhap
Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum speaks to reporters during his visit to the site of the collapsed building in Gwangju, Thursday. Yonhap
Rescue officers are continuing small-scale rescue and recovery operations in case there are more people buried at the site.

"Our investigation will focus on whether the construction workers had been abiding by safety rules when demolishing the building and whether the demolition was being carried out in accordance with due procedures," a police officer said.

Public anger is growing as circumstances showed that the tragedy could have been avoided if the workers, the construction company and the local government had taken the safety of citizens more seriously.

Police believed the workers may have evacuated the site minutes before the collapse after detecting some signs of instability.

HDC Hyundai Development Company, the constructor for the redevelopment project, had not asked the local government in Gwangju to move the bus stop temporarily to a safer location during the demolition process.

"The company did not request our cooperation regarding the relocation of the bus stop," Gwangju Mayor Lee Yong-sup said during a press conference earlier in the day.

But critics said that the local government is not free from responsibility, as it could have decided to move the bus stop on its own based on the common sense that areas next to redevelopment sites are dangerous.

President Moon Jae-in ordered a thorough investigation into the accident to clarify whether the demolition permission process was legitimate and whether appropriate safety measures had been taken at the redevelopment site, after receiving briefings via phone from Interior and Safety Minister Jeon Hae-cheol and Gwangju Mayor Lee, according to the presidential spokesperson, Park Kyung-mee.

"I ask relevant ministries and the local government to take all possible measures including support for funeral procedures and treatment of the injured," Moon was quoted as saying.

At his press conference held in Gwangju, HDC Chairman Chung Mong-gyu offered an apology, vowing his full efforts to support those who were injured and as well as the bereaved families who lost loved ones in the collapse.

"We will come up with countermeasures to prevent similar accidents in the future," he said.


Jun Ji-hye jjh@koreatimes.co.kr


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