Greater than 30 killed in South Korean hospital fireplace

Smoke rises from a burning hospital in Miryang. Kim Dong-min  Yonhap via REUTERS

A huge fire yesterday tore through a South Korean hospital, killing at least 37 people, the government said, in the country's worst blaze in a decade.

Several injured are in critical condition and the toll is feared to increase, fire officials said.

All the patients had been brought out, he said, adding that evacuating 15 patients from the intensive care unit on the third floor took longer as firefighters had to wait for medical staff to supervise the process.

At least 177 patients - a lot of them elderly - were at the main building of the hospital and the adjacent nursing home when the fire broke out, hospital director Song Byeong Cheol told reporters. But the officials later corrected this, saying some victims were counted twice. "Many of them suffered from respiratory disorders, which could have made them especially susceptible to the fire".

Hospital director Son Gyeong-cheol admitted there was no sprinkler system in the building.

"Many victims were from the first and second floors of the hospital. some died on their way to another hospital", he said.

The cause of the fire wasn't immediately determined.

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None had been required under fire prevention laws, but the hospital had planned to install them next week to comply with new regulations going into effect in June, he told reporters.

Choi said a total of 194 people were in two buildings.

Most of the 39 deaths appeared to be due to suffocation, with only one suffering burns, said an agency official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to speak to media. Officials believe the fire started in the emergency room.

A fire agency official says 18 people have been killed and 63 injured in a hospital fire in southeastern South Korea.

Sejong Hospital has a nursing hospital for the elderly and also offers regular medical services. Firefighters and hospital workers evacuated patients from an annexe that operated as a nursing home, carrying some of them on their backs.

The fire came only a month after 29 people were killed in an inferno at an eight-storey fitness club in the South Korean city of Jecheon - a disaster blamed on insufficient emergency exits, flammable finishing materials and illegally parked cars blocking access to emergency vehicles.

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