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At Least 48 Killed as Busy S. Korea Bridge Collapses

October 21, 1994|From Times Wire Services

SEOUL — At least 48 people were killed and many more were feared trapped underwater today after a bridge in central Seoul collapsed during the morning rush hour.

The central span of the four-lane Songsu bridge plunged into the Han River, taking with it cars, a van and at least one fully loaded city bus. Some of the vehicles fell about 50 feet.

Witnesses said there was no warning before the 150-foot section of the steel-supported bridge sheared cleanly away from the main structure and collapsed.

"I felt the car shaking suddenly and something caving in, then I passed out," Kim Min Ja, a 38-year-old teacher whose car fell into the river, told Yonhap news agency. "When I regained consciousness, water was rushing into the car. I left through a broken window, swam away and was saved."

She was traveling with two colleagues, one of whom was rescued and another who was missing.

Boats, divers and helicopters rescued about 30 people, news reports said. Some of the injured were put into nets and flown to hospitals.

But rescue operations were hampered by pouring rain and chaotic traffic caused by the closure of one of the city's busiest commuter routes.

On the wreckage of the collapsed span, workers lined up bodies to be ferried to city morgues. The fallen segment rested on the riverbed, and the road surface remained above the water level. The badly mangled bus, a van and two cars rested on it.

One witness said he thought at least 10 more vehicles had plunged into the Han, which is about 20 to 30 feet deep at that point.

The Songsu bridge, opened 15 years ago, is one of 17 across the Han that are normally packed with traffic during rush hour.

State television said repairs were carried out on the bridge Thursday evening, but the structure was cleared for rush hour this morning.

A city official whose department oversees road repairs said the bridge was only being resurfaced. Speaking on condition of anonymity, he said the work could not have caused the collapse.

Home Affairs Minister Choi Hyung Woo directed the rescue operation at the scene of the collapse, and President Kim Young Sam demanded a thorough investigation and heavy punishment for those responsible.

Two years ago another bridge crossing the Han collapsed, but it was still under construction and there were no casualties.

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