10 Korean kindergartners killed in tunnel fire in China
A school bus was passing through a tunnel in Huancui District in Weihai, a port city in eastern Shandong, at around 9 a.m., local time, when the vehicle suddenly burst into deadly flames.
The Korean Embassy in China confirmed that 10 of the 11 kindergartners killed were of Korean nationality and the other child was Chinese.
There were 13 passengers on the bus, including the teacher in charge, who is reported to have been severely injured, and the driver, who was killed. Both were Chinese.
The bus was reported to have departed from a neighborhood with many Korean residents at around 9 a.m. to head to the kindergarten, which was less than 50 minutes away. The accident happened around 10 minutes later as the bus passed through the Taojiakuang tunnel. It reportedly collided with a vehicle in front of it.
But officials have yet to confirm the exact cause of the fire.
Photos taken inside the tunnel after the accident showed a crimson blaze enveloping the bus. The tunnel was fairly packed with passenger cars.
Black smoke could be seen billowing from the end of the tunnel afterwards.
The children were students at a kindergarten attached to the Weihai Zhongshi International School, which was founded in 2007 by a Korean businessman, and has around 550 students.
Children of Koreans residing and working in China attend this international kindergarten, according to an embassy official.
No other details about the children killed in the accident were confirmed as of Tuesday afternoon.
An embassy official was dispatched to the site of the accident and was said to be in the process of confirming details.
The Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that an emergency headquarters was set up by its consulate general in Qingdao, and eight officials arrived soon afterward to help with the aftermath of the accident. They will provide support for relatives of the victims.
The ministry said it also requested cooperation from the Weihai city government to figure out the cause of the accident and how to respond to it.
The Korean embassy said it has not yet confirmed whether the fire was somehow the fault of the vehicle – possibly because of its age or its maintenance – or because it collided with another vehicle.
The children killed in the accident are expected to undergo DNA testing at nearby hospitals, while their parents were gathered at local hotels to hear updates on the situation.
May is “family month” in Korea. Last Friday was Children’s Day, Monday was Parents’ Day and May 15 is Teachers’ Day.
BY SARAH KIM [email@example.com]