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World - Asia/Pacific

23 children killed in fire at South Korean camp

June 30, 1999
Web posted at: 12:41 p.m. EDT (1641 GMT)

HWASUNG, South Korea (CNN) -- At least 23 young children were killed in a fire that swept through a dormitory at a seaside summer camp southwest of Seoul, police said Wednesday.

Police said two other children and a camp official were being treated at a hospital for minor injuries.

Search crews were digging through the charred remains of the three-story building, looking for possible victims, as anxious parents rushed to the scene. Some hunched over in horror, crying hysterically.

"Why did this happen to me? I can't believe it," wailed Choi Sun-ju, 34, after being told her 6-year-old daughter, Jon Su-young, was dead. Her husband, Jon Hyun-jung, 41, helped steady her.

The fire started after midnight (1500 GMT) at the Sealand Youth Training Center in Hwasung, about 100 kilometers (60 miles) southwest of Seoul.

Police said an electrical short circuit may have ignited the blaze in a third-floor room where several children were sleeping.

"It was too hot in the room, too hot," 5-year-old Kim Yoo- jung said in tears from her hospital bed. "My legs were burned and aching so I was brought here."

The fire spread quickly and engulfed the camp building. The second and third stories of the building were completely charred. Part of the building collapsed as firefighters battled the blaze.

The dormitory was a temporary structure made of metal shipping containers set on a concrete base -- a structure officials at the scene called a fire trap.

"This is like the sky falling on me," said Koh Suk, 37, a pharmaceutical company executive who lost 6-year-old twin daughters -- Ka-hyon and Nam-hyon. "I still can see their smiling faces when they went out of the gate, saying goodbye to me."

About 450 nursery school, kindergarten and elementary school children were attending a two-day recreational program at the camp overlooking the Yellow Sea on South Korea's west coast. Hundreds of children were evacuated to area hotels.

Police said the fire wasn't reported for over an hour because the blaze destroyed the camp's telephone lines. It took another hour for the first fire trucks to arrive because the nearest fire station was at Osan, 70 kilometers (43 miles) away, they said.

Bodies of the victims were taken to the National Institute of Scientific Investigation. Officials said the bodies were badly damaged and most would require DNA and forensic tests to confirm identification.

Seoul Bureau Chief Sohn Jie-Ae, The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.



RELATED STORIES:
Fire kills at least 23 children at South Korean summer camp
June 29, 1999

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