44 die as S Korean store caves in

Seoul disaster: Politicians and businesses accused of sacrificing construction safety standards in pursuit of economic growth

Rescuers battled against time and darkness to save shoppers screaming for help as they lay trapped in the rubble of a Seoul department store which collapsed like a house of cards yesterday. Officials in charge of the operation expected the death-toll to rise as the painstaking work continued through the night. By early today it was at least 44, with about 850 injured.

The disaster happened around 6pm, when the Sampoong department store in Kamnang, a residential district in southern Seoul, was crowded with evening shoppers.

"You can hear them crying for help down there," one fireman said. But within a few hours, rescuers said, they feared many of those trapped were already dead. "Scores of people are still buried, but in view of smoke coming out of the rubble, most of them would have died of suffocation," an army sergeant said.

Only half of the building was left standing after a 300ft-long section of the five-storey structure collapsed in seconds. The cause appeared to be poor construction, although there was earlier speculation about a gas explosion. According to witnesses, cracks had been noticed throughout the day. Hours before the collapse, guests in a store restaurant said gas had been switched off, apparently because the management had already detected problems.

A store employee said an emergency meeting of the store's management was called but no steps were taken to close the building. Police said a meeting to discuss repairing the damage was taking place when the building collapsed.

"I felt the building wavering, and moments later, several store employees rushed down from upper floors," Han Junk Suk told KBS-TV. O Sang Yong, a cook in the restaurant on the fifth floor, described how he evacuated customers when a gaping crack appeared in the wall. "When I had got the customers out, I left by the walkway to the next building,'' he said. ''There were three loud bangs in succession, then a rumbling sound and I was thrown down."

The injured, many of them crushed, bleeding and unconscious, were dragged out and relayed to ambulances before billowing smoke from an underground fire and a strong smell of gas drove rescuers back. A thousand people were estimated to have been inside the collapsed portion of the building. Remote-control cameras tracking through the rubble showed people trapped by beams and girders. Most of the victims were believed to be staff and housewives shopping for dinner.

As night fell, rescue workers using cranes worked under spotlights to free the dozens of survivors in the basement.

The building, near one of the busiest junctions of the city, was built in 1989.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Sheridan Maine: Finance Analyst

Circa £45,000-£50,000 + benefits: Sheridan Maine: Are you a newly qualified ac...

Sheridan Maine: Accounts Assistant

£12 - £15 Hourly Rate: Sheridan Maine: Are you an experienced Accounts Assista...

Sheridan Maine: Financial Accountant

£150 - £190 Daily Rate: Sheridan Maine: One of London's leading water supplier...

Sheridan Maine: Portfolio Accountant

£30,000 - £35,000 Annual: Sheridan Maine: Are you a Management Accountant with...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor