Moon orders probe of demolition accident that killed 9
President Moon Jae-in on Thursday ordered a thorough investigation into the deadly collapse of a building in Gwangju that killed at least nine people trapped in a city bus.
Eight people were seriously injured and authorities were unsure if there were more victims unaccounted for.
“I offer my deepest condolences to the victims, their families and the people of Gwangju,” Moon was quoted as saying Thursday by Blue House spokeswoman Park Kyung-mee.
Moon received phone briefings from Interior and Safety Minister Jeon Hae-cheol and Mayor of Gwangju Metropolitan City Lee Yong-seop in the morning, Park said. He ordered the city government, Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport and Ministry of Interior and Safety to offer all possible support to the victims’ families holding funerals. Support for survivors undergoing medical treatment was also ordered by the president.
The five-story building in the southwestern city of Gwangju was being demolished when it collapsed Wednesday afternoon.
Fire authorities received a report around 4:20 p.m. Wednesday that the building collapsed during a demolition project in Gwangju’s Dong District and fell onto a bus stopped at a station in front of the construction site.
Nine people were found dead as of Thursday morning, and eight others, including the driver of the bus, were rescued but suffered severe injuries. All were on the bus.
There appeared to be no passersby on the sidewalk of the three-lane road next to the building at the time. Demolition workers evacuated shortly after they felt abnormal shaking and heard suspicious sounds. But they did not stop traffic on the road, allowing the bus to approach and stop at the station in front of the site.
According to the Blue House, Moon received an initial briefing immediately after the accident and was frequently updated about the situation.
The Blue House said Moon ordered the police and the Land Ministry on Thursday to conduct investigations into the accident, particularly to check if safety regulations were ignored during the demolition. Moon told them to update the victims' families on every bit of progress in the investigation.
Moon expressed frustration that safety measures instituted after a similar accident in 2019 failed to prevent Wednesday's disaster. In 2019, a building in Jamwon-dong, Seocho District of Seoul collapsed while it was being demolished, killing one person and injuring three.
“To make sure there is no recurrence of a similar incident, the government must modify the safety measures,” Moon said.
Top government officials including Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum visited Gwangju on Thursday to express condolences to the victims’ families and support the search and rescue operation.
Chairman Chung Mong-Gyu of HDC Group, the primary builder of a housing redevelopment project where the deadly accident took place, held a press conference Thursday and issued an apology.
The Gwangju Metropolitan Police Agency said Thursday that it created a joint investigation team to find out the cause of the building’s collapse. The police questioned 10 witnesses after the accident.
The police and the National Forensic Service also conducted a site investigation Thursday afternoon.
According to the Dong District Office of Gwangju, the building collapsed on the first day of the demolition project. Hansol, a construction company that specializes in demolitions, was hired by HDC Group and an architectural company hired as a supervisor.
A document submitted to the district office showed that the construction company planned to use excavators to tear down the building starting from the fifth floor using a top-down demolition method.
Cho Hyeon-gi, an official from the district office, said Thursday that the construction company is suspected of not faithfully following the steps in the demolition plan.
“The supervisor, supposed to be in charge of all safety management, was also not at the site when the demolition took place,” he said.
The Dong District Office said it will file criminal complaints against the heads of the construction company and the architecture firm, which are necessary to start an investigation into criminal charges such as negligence and possibly manslaughter.
Construction consultants and engineers said Thursday that the demolition may have ignored some safety issues.
BY SER MYO-JA, CHOI JONG-GWON [firstname.lastname@example.org]