Police: 35 Dead in S. Korea Arson Attack
Feb. 18, 2003
DAEGU, South Korea (AP) _ A man ignited a blaze in a subway car with a milk carton of flammable liquid in South Korea's third-largest city on Tuesday, killing at least 35 people and injuring 135, police said. Firefighter officials said 87 people were missing.
The television station MBC-TV reported that ``dozens'' of charred bodies were inside burned cars from the fire.
A suspect was under interrogation, but police still did not know what motivated the attack or whether there were passengers still trapped in the subway. YTN all-news television channel and Yonhap news agency said 12 maintenance workers appeared to be still trapped underground.
The death toll had risen steadily and officials said 35 people were killed and 135 injured. A temporary firefighter command post set up at the scene reported 87 missing.
Authorities said that the fire had been extinguished by 1 p.m., about three hours after it started. The acrid odor of burned plastic still wafted over the fire scene hours after the flames had been put out.
The injured were rushed to nearby hospitals, but details on their conditions were not known, said Kim Byong-hak, a police lieutenant in Daegu, 200 miles southeast of Seoul. YTN reported that some of the injured were in serious condition.
Kim Bok-sun, 45, said her missing daughter, 21-year-old Kang Yeon-ju, was on the burning train and called in panic.
``She only said that there was a fire and the train door wasn't opening, so I told her to just break open a window and get out,'' she said, her voice trembling with emotion. Kim called her daughter back a few minutes later, ``but she never answered the phone.''
Police were interrogating Kim Dae-han, 46, who witnesses said carried a milk carton box filled with flammable material into a subway car, said Kim, the police officer. Police still did not know what precisely was in the carton.
``When the man tried to use a cigarette lighter to light the box, some passengers tied to stop him. Apparently a scuffle erupted and the box exploded into flames,'' the officer said.
YTN aired footage of the chaotic scene inside a nearby hospital reportedly showing the suspect being attended to by nurses. The man sat frowning on a bed wearing a hospital smock, his face and hands smudged from soot from the fire.
Yu Heung-soo, a police sergeant in Daegu, said Kim had been burned in both legs and the right wrist.
YTN, without citing sources, also reported that the suspect worked as truck driver and had once threatened to burn down the hospital where he had received unsatisfactory treatment.
In the minutes after the fire began, thick black smoke billowed out of ventilator shafts of the subway. Downtown traffic came to a standstill as ambulances rushed to the scene. Orange suit-clad firefighters wearing oxygen tanks rushed into the subway.
Rescuers brought victims, their faces and clothes black with soot, up to the street in stretchers and slid them into ambulances. One witness detailed the terrifying scene inside the subway as the fire ignited.
``The man kept flickering a lighter and an old man told him to stop. The man dropped the lighter and the train caught fire,'' an unidentified male survivor told YTN. ``Several young men seized him, but the fire spread and black smoke rose. Then everyone rushed out.''
The subway was filled with toxic gas, impeding rescue operations, Yonhap said.
One man told YTN that his friend called on his cell phone and said he was trapped inside one of the cars. The unidentified man told YTN that he had called subway officials and they were unaware of the fire at the time.
Daegu, one of the 10 World Cup soccer venues last year, is the third largest city in South Korea with a population of 2.5 million. The city is also a venue for this year's World University Games on Aug. 21-31.
In 1995, a gas explosion in a subway construction site in the city killed 101 people and injured 143 others.
In South Korea's last major fire disaster, 55 people were killed in a beer hall in Incheon, near Seoul, in October 1999.