At least 41 killed in hospital fire in South Korea

At least 41 people, including a doctor and two nurses, were killed and 18 others seriously injured in a fire that engulfed a hospital in the South Korean city of Miryang early on Friday.

Firefighters (pictured-Photo: Gyeongnam Provincial Police Agency) believe the blaze started around 7.30 am in the changing room for nurses next to the emergency room on the ground floor of Sejong Hospital which treats aged patients, who cannot move without help and need long-term intensive care, as well as regular patients.

Choi Man-woo, chief of Miryang city’s fire department, said at a morning press briefing that most of the dead were patients in critical condition who could not move by themselves.

No one died directly from the fire which was put out in two hours before it could spread to other floors. Patients died after inhaling toxic smoke in their ward or during evacuation, Choi said.

Most of the victims were found in the emergency ward on the first floor of the building. Others were found on the second and fifth floors. All patients in the wing for old patients were evacuated safely.

The cause of the fire was not yet known. Choi said the hospital had no fire sprinklers adding that the death toll could rise as some of the injured were in critical condition.

A patient who managed to escape from the second floor of the hospital said there were sprinklers but they failed to function.

At least 100 patients were inside the hospital when the fire broke out, the Yonhap news agency reported. Ninety-three patients from an adjoining nursing home were evacuated unhurt.

President Moon Jae-in convened an emergency staff meeting and called for swift measures to help minimise damage from the fire.

Sejong Hospital employs 35 doctors, nurses and nursing assistants. It has 193 beds — 98 for seniors and 95 for other patients.

This is the second major fire accident in South Korea in recent weeks. In December last year, 29 people died when a fire broke out in a fitness centre in the city of Jecheon.