The toll keeps rising

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The toll keeps rising

A disastrous accident has occurred again. At least 21 elderly people living in a long-term, chronic care hospital in South Jeolla were killed after a fire broke out yesterday. Koreans are increasingly worried about the safety level of public facilities across the country.

Police say at least 21 senior citizens living in the hospital in Jangseong County, South Jeolla, lost their lives after an annex building in the complex suddenly caught fire around 12:27 a.m. yesterday. Most of the victims were in their 70s, 80s and 90s. Firefighters put out the fire just minutes after receiving a report and everything was under control by 12:55 a.m. But they could not save the lives of the senior citizens.

The police have arrested a suspect, a dementia patient in his 80s. But the hospital was not prepared for such an emergency. Worse, most of the patients were not able to move about freely as they suffered from dementia or the after effects of strokes. The police say that only two staff - including a nursing aide who died while trying to extinguish the fire - were working in the annex when the fire began. If the hospital authorities had positioned more staff and evacuated patients earlier, it could have significantly reduced the number of fatalities.

Following orders by the provincial government of South Jeolla to check the safety of hospitals since the April 16 Sewol ferry disaster, officials from Jangseong County visited the hospital for an on-site inspection, and the hospital itself examined its safety procedures this month. But no problem was found. We wonder if the check was done sincerely.

The fire resembled the inferno on Monday at Goyang Intercity Bus Terminal in which more than 40 people were killed after they were suffocated by smoke and fumes. Though safety measures have been reinforced since the Sewol tragedy, it is regrettable that people’s precious lives are not protected. Following a fire in a parking lot of a big store in Dongdaemun, Seoul, another case of arson also took place in the Seoul subway yesterday.

No one knows when, where and how an accident may occur. The authorities must prepare for the worst-case scenarios.

JoongAng Ilbo, May 29, Page 34

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