More than 120 dead in SKorea subway fire

Feb. 19, 2003 at 1:55 AM
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DAEGU, South Korea, Feb. 19 (UPI) -- Police said Wednesday the death toll, currently at 126, was expected to rise following a subway train fire apparently set by a mental patient in Daegu, South Korea's third-largest city.

Police noted that hundreds of people were missing Wednesday and many of the injured were listed in serious condition.

Daegu's anti-disaster office said that 54 of the dead have been identified. Forensic experts are trying to identify another 72 scorched bodies most of which were discovered inside trains were gutted by flames in Tuesday's arson attack, it said.

"The bodies were burned beyond recognition," said Kim Shin-dong, the fire chief of the city. "It will take a considerable time to identify all the remains." Officials said they would have to wait for DNA tests to confirm the exact number of dead.

The office said 314 people reported still missing but it said the number might be inflated by double reports and confusion over the identities of the dead.

Some 146 people were injured, some 50 of them seriously. Most of the injured were suffered from smoke inhalation and were at risk for developing pneumonia and lung damage.

Police claim that Kim Dae-han, a 56-year-old former taxi driver, lit a milk carton filled with paint thinner and threw it into a packed subway car at Chungang-ro station. The blaze spread to a second six-carriage train when it pulled into the station a few minutes later.

Toxic gases quickly spread through the train cars and the station's electricity was cut, resulting in a large number of casualties, police investigators said.

"I wanted to die, but not alone. I set fire to the train to die along with many others," Kim was quoted as saying by a police spokesman. The officer declined to further comment, saying the suspect is being treated for injuries in a hospital.

The suspect has been suffering from a series of mental and physical illnesses and was registered as disabled, police said. He suffered a stroke two years ago, which left him partially paralyzed. Kim's son said his father once threatened to kill his doctor for failing to cure his paralysis.

Police and subway operators are on high alert in other major cities, including Seoul, where security measures have been tightened.

Daegu, with a population of 2.5 million, has been hit by a subway tragedy before. In April 1995, 101 people died in a morning rush hour gas explosion on the city's subway line, which was under construction at the time.

Daegu, one of the 10 World Cup soccer venues last year, is to host this year's Universiade in August.


(Reported by Jong-Heon Lee in Seoul.)

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