Death toll in South Korea battery plant fire rises to 22

By Lee Haye-ah, Yonhap
As many as 22 people were killed in a fire at a battery factory in South Korea. Photo by Yonhap
As many as 22 people were killed in a fire at a battery factory in South Korea. Photo by Yonhap

June 24 (UPI) -- At least 22 workers, mostly Chinese nationals, were killed in a lithium battery plant fire in Hwaseong, south of Seoul, Monday, firefighters said, in what could be the worst accident to occur at a chemical factory in the country.

The death toll could rise further as one went missing while being out of contact, according to the authorities.


As of 6:30 p.m., 22 workers had been killed, with two seriously injured and six others suffering mild injuries.

Among those confirmed killed, 20 are foreigners -- 18 Chinese nationals, one Laotian and another whose nationality is not known, they said.

The blaze started at lithium battery maker Aricell's plant in Hwaseong, 45 kilometers south of Seoul, at around 10:30 a.m., authorities said. Firefighters went inside the building to search for the missing person after the main fire was under control at around 3:10 p.m.


The deceased were all found on the second floor of the factory's No. 3 building. Other details of the dead have yet to be verified and DNA tests will be carried out as the blaze severely damaged the bodies.

"The foreign ministry plans to closely cooperate with the diplomatic missions of related countries in South Korea to support the victims and their families," a ministry official said.

President Yoon Suk Yeol visited the site of the fire and ordered government officials to draw up measures to prevent similar accidents from occurring, his office said.

He also expressed his condolences to the victims and their families.

The fire reportedly occurred for unknown reasons at the three-story, reinforced concrete building with a total floor space of about 2,300 square meters.

Firefighters reportedly had difficulties completely putting out the blaze because burning lithium batteries are difficult to handle by conventional fire extinguishing methods.

One witness, who escaped from the second floor of the plant, told the Hwaseong Fire Station that an explosive combustion occurred in one battery cell at the time of the fire.

The station said the fire spread rapidly as the battery cells inside exploded continuously, making it difficult for rescuers to go inside and search. At least 35,000 batteries are believed to be inside the plant.


CCTV footage unveiled by the fire authorities showed a small amount of smoke started from one battery cell and sharply grew to fill the inside of the factory in just 15 seconds.

"Human losses seemed to increase as foreign workers, who were mostly dispatched from an outside employment service firm (for temporary jobs), were not aware of the inside structure of the factory," said Cho Sun-ho, the chief of the fire authorities in Gyeonggi Province.

The Gyeonggi Nambu Provincial Police, which oversees Hwaseong, will carry out a joint survey of the site with the firefighting authorities, the National Forensic Service, the labor ministry and other relevant organizations on Tuesday morning to determine the exact cause of the fire.

Meanwhile, the prosecution formed a special team to solely investigate the circumstances leading to the fire and determine those responsible, while the labor ministry created a separate task force to look into the cause and identify possible violations of the Serious Accidents Punishment Act.

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