100 die in hail of steel after Korea gas blast

Wrecked cars litter the scene of the gas explosion in the South Korean city of Taegu. More than half the victims were children
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Taegu, South Korea (Reuter) - Rescuers worked through the night to seek survivors of a rush-hour gas blast that killed at least 100 people, more than half of them schoolchildren, in South Korea's third largest city.

The explosion, caused by a leaking gas main at a subway construction site, hurled cars, trucks and buses into the air.Thousands of steel plates being used as a temporary road surface were also thrown through the air in a deadly hail, crushing and dismembering pedestrians. "I heard a loud bang and flames rose about 50 metres into the air, taking with it steel plates," a taxi driver said.

Some 2,500 rescuers picked through debris in the hope of finding survivors.

A spokesman for a disaster squad working in Taegu, about 150 miles south of Seoul, said 101 people were dead and around 200 injured, making it one of South Korea's worst peacetime disasters. State television and local news media, quoting police, put the death toll even higher - up to 110 killed with more than 200 injured.

Scores of cars were idling at a traffic signal when they were blasted into the air by the explosion. Witnesses said a bus taking pupils to nearby schools plunged into a pit excavated for the subway construction. An education ministry spokesman said 45 pupils from one middle school had been confirmed killed. More were feared dead because they did not report for morning registration yesterday.

Rescue officials said the death toll would rise as many survivors were in a critical condition. The Prime Minister, Lee Hong-koo, visiting the scene, said more than half the dead were school-age teenagers. "The fact that more than half of the victims were young students makes our hearts ache even more," he said.

Park Yoon-ho, 17, a high school pupil, said he heard a loud explosion as he walked to school. "Then I was blown down by a gust that sent out a mushroom of dust. It looked like the explosion of an atomic bomb on television."

Witnesses said a sheet of flame erupted from the site and the blast shook buildings like an earthquake. About 70 buildings were badly damaged.

Gas suppliers said they suspected an excavator had punctured a gas pipe. State radio said the explosion was apparently caused by welding work which set off gas leaking from a supply pipe. There was no independent confirmation.