Family, friends mourn loss of 9 in noraebang fire

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Family, friends mourn loss of 9 in noraebang fire

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BUSAN - A joint memorial alter was set up to mourn the six young Koreans and three Sri Lankan migrant workers who died in a recent fire at a noraebang (singing room) in Busan, with emotional family members and friends gathering yesterday to grieve the loss of their loved ones.

“My son was a nice and vibrant boy who worked for more than 10 hours every day to support the family,” said Kim Eun-hee, the 51-year-old mother of Park Seung-beom, one of the victims of the major fire that broke out on Saturday night at S Noraebang in Busanjin District.

Staring at a photo of her 20-year-old son, Kim broke down into tears at the funeral home in Dong-A Medical Center in Busan. “I just can’t believe he is gone,” she said.

Park and his 22-year-old friend Seo Han-kyul worked at the same company and went to the noraebang with four other colleagues. The six - including three from Sri Lanka - were young workers in their 20s hired by a Busan-based auto components manufacturing company.

“They were hardworking employees,” said Sohn Young-tae, an official from the manufacturing firm. “My heart breaks to see them go this way.”

Twenty-five others were injured in the fire and are currently being treated at various hospitals. None sustained life-threatening injuries.

The Busan Fire Department said yesterday that the cause of the fire was most likely stray voltage that ignited flammable materials like styrofoam, and stated that the large death count was due to the internal structure of the singing room.

Those who escaped the fire said they could hardly move through S Noraebang’s narrow 1.5-meter-wide (4.9-feet-wide) hallway. There were neither windows nor safety sprinklers in the facility.

The owner of the noraebang had also illegally created more rooms inside the facility. It was permitted to have 24 rooms, but the owner increased the number to 26 by remodeling the structure.

Room No. 1 was initially an ancillary room connected to one of the three emergency exits. The other emergency exit was blocked by boxes stacked up in front. When the fire broke out, customers inside all rushed to the main entrance and exit, which slowed down the evacuation and in the end raised the death toll.

Based on the National Forensic Service’s autopsy results, all nine victims died from inhaling toxic gases.

“All nine victims were found on the way to the main exit,” said Yoon Hee-tae, a policeman in charge of the recent case. “Only if they were able to find other exits would there have been less victims.”

Of the eight CCTV cameras installed, only one was recovered, Busanjin District Police said. The quality of that camera, however, was very poor, and further recovery efforts are under way.

The noraebang opened in 2009 and received an overall safety check in August of last year, but the Busan Fire Department did not notice that it had been illegally remodeled.

By Kim Yoon-ho, Lee Eun-joo [angie@joongang.co.kr]

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