Construction site explosion leaves 4 dead

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Construction site explosion leaves 4 dead

Four people died and 10 were injured by an explosion that occurred on Wednesday morning at a subway station construction site in Namyangju, Gyeonggi.

At the time of the explosion, approximately 7:20 a.m., there were 17 people present at the site, including 14 construction workers and three managers, five of whom were welding an iron bar 15 meters (49 feet) underground.

“There was the big explosion and I was immediately blinded by white dust,” said one construction worker, surnamed Kim. “Then a strong wind knocked everybody down.”

The site collapsed and three of the welders were later found dead underneath debris. A fourth was injured, while the fifth was found dead on the street above, having been catapulted upwards by the explosion.

A resident of the area attested to the magnitude of explosion by saying, “The explosion was so strong it shook buildings around the scene.”

Among the 10 injured workers who were immediately sent to nearby hospitals, three suffered serious injuries and one was in critical condition by press time. Nine were found to be workers in their 40s and 50s, contracted by Posco Engineering & Construction, the company in charge of the project.

The fire fighters completed their rescue operation at 9:05 a.m. and an official said it suspects the welding gas used may have caused the explosion.

The Gyeonggi Provincial Police Agency has set up investigation headquarters in the Namyang Police Precinct to determine the cause of the accident and deal with the aftermath.

Personnel from the National Forensic Service and the Korea Gas Safety Corporation were also deployed to conduct a close examination of the site.

While the exact cause of the explosion remains unknown, some experts suspect that the safety manual may not have been closely followed. The welding machines that the workers took with them underground were connected to liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) carriers and oxygen tanks. The Korean Federation of Construction Industry Trade Unions raised the possibility that the workers did not completely seal one or more of the gas valves, creating a gas leak.

An official from the federation said, “The fact that the safety inspector wasn’t also injured raises questions, since he should have been right there with them.”

“We feel responsible for the accident and sincerely apologize to the families of the dead and injured,” Posco Engineering & Construction said in a statement. “Once the exact cause of the accident is known, we will conduct an overhaul of the safety manual and facilities to prevent such accidents from happening again.”

The spokesman of Posco also promised to provide support for “those who suffered loss and injury.”

BY JEON IK-JIN [jeong.byungki@joogang.co.kr]

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