Seoul rescuers save 24 more

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The Independent Online
TWENTY-FOUR people were rescued yesterday from the rubble of the Sampoong department store in Seoul, more than 51 hours after they were buried in debris when the five-storey building collapsed on Thursday.

Rescue workers, who earlier found five other people alive, turned their attention to a second pocket of survivors, believed to contain 22 people. The death toll stood at 100, but, with an estimated 250 people still missing, officials said they expected it finally to exceed 300.

The rescues came as prosecutors charged four executives of the store with criminal negligence. Its founder, Lee Joon, and president, his son Lee Han Sang, were accused with two others of failing to order an evacuation of the building although they were aware of structural problems.

Police said the four knew the top floor was crumbling hours before the disaster but decided not to close the store and left without warning anyone. Investigators have blamed the collapse on shoddy construction.

Rescuers and onlookers cheered as the group of 10 men and 14 women - all cleaners at the store - emerged through an evacuation tunnel. Only one was reported injured.

The survivors' eyes were bandaged against the light and their bodies had been smeared with vegetable oil to allow them to slip through the opening, according to witnesses.

For 13 hours after the group was detected, rescue workers used electric saws, car jacks, torches and their hands to clear a hole through the concrete slabs and twisted metal rods blocking their path to the locker- room where the cleaners were trapped. A steel pipe was pushed through to provide air, water and food to the group, who had survived on water from the room's refrigerator.

As the search for other survivors continued into a third night, the Red Cross asked relatives for the numbers of pagers or cellular telephones that the missing may have been carrying. Officials hoped rescuers or sound detectors could hear the devices beeping, even if the owners were unconscious or dead.