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Survivor Found in Rubble 16 Days After Store Collapse

July 15, 1995

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) _ Astonished rescuers pulled another survivor from the rubble of a department store Saturday, 16 days after the building collapsed and killed at least 300 people.

Rescue workers carried 19-year-old Park Sung-hyun from the rubble of the Sampoong Department Store on a stretcher, her head wrapped in blankets to block the light after so long in darkness. She was reported weak but in stable condition at a hospital.

Her family was overcome by emotion.

``It’s a miracle, it’s a miracle,″ Park’s mother, Kim In-chul, murmured over and over again, seemingly in shock.

The father, Park Jae-won, said he didn’t allow himself to believe his daughter was alive until he got to the hospital. ``Once I saw her, and checked for myself, then I could relax,″ he said.

``I can’t believe that this is for real,″ her brother told Yonhap Television.

A nurse who treated Park said that except for a scratch on her leg, she did not seem to have external injuries.

``She said that she was thirsty, and she asked what today’s date was,″ said nurse Lee Yoo-mee. ``When I told her the date, she replied that too many days had passed.″

Emergency workers were digging in the rubble for what they hoped was a second survivor next to Park. But it was uncertain whether the second person was alive.

``I heard a slight moan, coming from a hole,″ said rescue worker Ahn Kwang-shik. He said rescuers didn’t expect to find any survivors among the stacks of concrete slabs.

The last survivor was found Tuesday, about 20 yards from where Park was found.

Park sold children’s clothing in the basement of the department store.

The death toll in the disaster rose to 305 early Saturday in the worst peacetime disaster in modern South Korean history.

Faulty construction is blamed for the collapse of the store June 29 with about 1,500 people inside. Angry relatives of the missing and dead are demanding prosecutors charge store executives with murder.

Some 330 people are believed still trapped under the rubble. Another 292 are hospitalized in serious condition.

Doctors, who initially held out little hope people trapped in the rubble could last more than a few days, say that those who escaped injury could live for up to 20 days.

Families of the missing and dead, frustrated and angry, attacked two government officials with brooms and chairs and drove them out of a meeting Friday at a school auditorium.

They were angered by rumors that rescuers were letting bodies rot under the rubble in an attempt to hide the extent of losses.

The rumors stemmed from the city’s sudden doubling Thursday of the number of people missing to 410, which prompted speculation that the city didn’t release the number earlier because it wanted to avoid criticism.

Relatives of the missing have been living at a school auditorium near the collapse site for the past 16 days, waiting for word of their loved ones. Others are living out of makeshift tents set up on school grounds.

Several of the family members have been hospitalized themselves for exhaustion.

The city has been under fierce criticism for its handling of the disaster, including a lack of rescue experts, equipment and poor communication among army, police and city officials mobilized for the rescue.

Two survivors were pulled from the rubble Sunday and Tuesday, feeding hopes that more of the missing people may be found alive. Torrential storms, blamed for hastening the decay of remains, provided drinking water for them.

Many of the bodies were believed to be near the elevator tower, but work was being delayed because of fears the remaining wall, teetering to the side, could collapse.

With fears rising that decomposing bodies in the rubble might cause an epidemic, health officials have expanded disinfection efforts to include nearby neighborhoods.

Four store executives and two local government officials have been arrested on charges of negligence and bribery.

Update hourly