7 workers under Han swept away

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7 workers under Han swept away

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Rescue workers yesterday search for missing construction workers who were swept away Monday evening by the flooded Han River in Noryangjin, Seoul. [NEWS1]

Seven daily workers replacing old water pipes at a construction site under the Han River were swept away by an unexpected rush of water from the swollen river.

A laborer was confirmed dead and the other six were still missing.

An eighth man, Lee Won-ik, said yesterday he survived the accident but the company doing the work denied his account and police are investigating.

The Seoul Metropolitan Government said yesterday that seven daily workers were swept away around 5 p.m. Monday at a construction site where water pipes connected to the Noryangjin reservoir in Dongjak District in southern Seoul were being replaced.

“The workers were replacing water pipes between Hangang Park and Nodeul Station of subway line No. 9 that distribute water to nearby apartment complexes,” Jeong Yeon-chan, chief of the Office of Waterworks of the city government said in a press briefing yesterday.

“We figure that water from the Han, which is swollen due to heavy rainfall and water discharged from the Paldang Dam, poured into the construction site,” he said.

Cho Ho-yong, a 59-year-old daily worker, died en route to Chung-Ang University Hospital.

The city government said they haven’t found the remaining six workers and don’t know if they survived. A search is underway.

The government said the workers were replacing old water pipes attached to the walls of a 2.2 meter (7.2 feet) diameter, 1.4-kilometer-long tunnel connecting two drainage tunnels that link to the Noryangjin reservoir.

The 1.4 kilometer tunnel is about 48 meters under the Han.

The level of the Han suddenly rose about 50 centimeters (1.6 feet) higher than the open-topped drain tunnel of Nodeul Station located near Hangang Hyundai Apartment complex, and about 60,000 tons of river water entered the drain tunnel and went through the 1.4 kilometer tunnel in which the workers were.

It broke a 30- to-40 centimeter steel water barrier the workers set between the drain tunnel and their work site.

The drain tunnel near the apartment complex is about 24 meters high, which is about 5.8 meters higher than the average water level of the Han in that area, according to the city government.

The water pipe replacement started in September 2011 and was to be completed by April 2014.

The Seoul city government is being criticized for making the workers continue their work after recent heavy rainfall.

The waterworks office said it ordered Kunhwa company, a private construction inspection company hired by the city government, at 9:56 a.m. to conduct a safety inspection to decide whether work should be stopped. A total of four officials including the company’s chief inspector, Lee Myeong-geun, inspected the work site until 10:10 a.m. and reported to the waterworks office at 10:15 a.m. that the workers could continue.

“The Paldang Dam was discharging an average of 6,000 to 8,000 tons of water into the Han per hour when the inspectors checked the construction site in that morning,” Lee told reporters at the station during a press briefing held at the construction site.

“But the discharge suddenly increased up to 16,000 ton per hour after 12:30 p.m. In such circumstances, the flood control manual tells workers to stop working and evacuate their work site. So we thought that the builder [Chunho Construction] already gave such orders to their workers. I think communication between the builder and its subcontractors broke down. We should have checked the rainfall for the northern Gangwon region, which affects the water level of Paldang, but failed. We admit we made a poor judgment and sincerely apologize to the families of the victims.”

Police are investigating the claim of Lee Won-ik, who said he was the eighth worker in the crew and survived the accident.

“It can’t be true,” the builder said. “Only seven workers were dispatched to the site.”



BY KWON SANG-SOO [sakwon80@joongang.co.kr]

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