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10 killed in resort building collapse in South Korea

Tuesday, 18 February 2014 - 2:17pm IST | Agency: IANS

A resort building collapsed in a South Korean city Monday night, killing 10 people, including nine college students, and injuring dozens of others, a senior official at the state-run emergency management agency said Tuesday.

"Ten people were confirmed dead, two were seriously injured and 16 others were slightly wounded," Xinhua quoted Lee Jae-yeul, director general of the general adjustment team at South Korea's National Emergency Management Agency, as telling reporters at a televised press conference.

Lee said search and rescue operations were completed as of 2 pm on Tuesday, around 17 hours after a gymnasium at the Mauna Ocean Resort in Gyeongju, some 370 km southeast of Seoul, caved in at about 9.06 on pm Monday.

When the gymnasium roof collapsed under the weight of heavy snow, more than 560 students of the Busan University of Foreign Studies (BUFS) were participating in a event for freshmen from the southern port city of Busan.

Among the 10 people confirmed dead, nine were students from the BUFS and one was an agent for the event organising company. Two students and 11 event organisers, who had been out of contact and was believed to be trapped under the roof, were all accounted for. The gymnasium roof caved in as the building was unable to withstand the weight of snow, according to police and fire authorities. The exact cause of the accident is being investigated by prosecutors and police.

Over the past week, the Gyeongju city and its surrounding area have had about 50 cm of snow. Neglect of safety management by the resort operator Kolon Corp was determined as one of the potential causes of the deadly accident. The gymnasium, built as a pre-fabricated structure, had never undergone any safety check since the completion of its construction in 2009, according to local media reports.

Kolon Corp chairman Lee Woong-yeul, in a televised press conference, took "heavy responsibility" for the deaths of the young students while apologising to the bereaved families. The Mauna Ocean Resort is operated by a unit of the Kolon Corp, which has a 50% stake in the resort operator.

Heavy snow and icy roads slowed down rescue efforts. Rescuers had difficulties in reaching the scene as the building is located at the top of a mountain and snow was thick on the ground. Most rescue workers had to walk several hundred metres through the slippery and narrow road to the scene.

According to the emergency management agency, a total of 1,448 rescuers, including fire and police officials and troops from the nearby Marine Corps and army units, were dispatched to the scene.

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