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S. Koreans Seek Survivors of Gas Blast That Killed 98

April 29, 1995|From Times Wire Services

TAEGU, South Korea — Rescuers worked through the night Friday to seek survivors of a rush-hour gas blast that killed 98 people, more than half of them children, 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 and scattered thousands of steel plates, being used as a temporary road surface, through the air in a deadly hail.

Officials said 60 of those killed were students in their early teens heading to seven area middle schools during the morning rush hour. As many as 200 people were injured, and others were trapped in the debris.

Police said a spark from the subway construction site set off natural gas leaking from a broken pipeline in Taegu, a provincial capital of 2.2 million people about 140 miles south of Seoul.

The force of the blast scattered heavy steel sheets that were serving as a temporary four-lane road for a 300-yard stretch of the construction site. The sheets, each weighing more than 600 pounds, were found strewn atop buildings and houses as far as 150 feet away.

High school student Kim Dong Duk said he saw metal beams fly as high as a nearby 15-story apartment complex. Some landed atop buildings, cars and passersby.

Kim also watched from across the street as buses and cars carrying classmates were thrown in the air.

As many as 100 cars and city buses tumbled 30 feet into the exposed excavation site. Several buildings were gutted, and a dozen more were blackened by the explosion. Witnesses reported a tower of flame up to 150 feet high.

Huge cranes were used to lift beams trapping survivors.

Rescue efforts were hindered by a broken water main that officials feared could drown survivors trapped underground.

South Korean President Kim Young Sam called the explosion the result of "carelessness." Prime Minister Lee Hong Koo visited the site and apologized to the victims, their relatives, the city and the nation.

The government called upon the military for the rescue efforts and also ordered safety checks of gas pipes in other large cities.

But opposition parties called the accident evidence of government incompetence, pointing to a string of recent disasters. Last December, 12 people were killed, dozens more injured and 150 left homeless when a natural gas holding tank exploded in a Seoul residential neighborhood. Thirteen other, smaller explosions were reported last year.

A bridge collapsed in Seoul in October, killing 32 people. Three days later, a fire swept through a crowded sightseeing ship south of Seoul, killing 30 people.

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