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South Korea: Massive fire at lithium battery factory kills 22 foreign nationals, death toll may rise

Local fire official Kim Jin-young told a televised briefing said most of the missing people were foreign nationals including Chinese. He said the mobile phone signals of the missing people were tracked to be coming from the second floor of the factory.

Edited By: Ajeet Kumar @Ajeet1994 Seoul Updated on: June 24, 2024 16:43 IST
Firefighters work at the site of a burnt lithium battery manufacturing factory in Hwaseong, South Ko
Image Source : AP Firefighters work at the site of a burnt lithium battery manufacturing factory in Hwaseong, South Korea.

A fire at a lithium battery manufacturing factory near South Korea's capital on Monday left at least 22 people dead, as per multiple reports. It cited a fire official saying the death count could rise further. The fire at the factory in Hwaseong city, just south of Seoul, was initially found to have killed one person and injured four others, two of them critically. Rescue workers later retrieved eight additional bodies from the factory, increasing the death toll to 20, local fire official Kim Jin-young told a televised briefing.

Kim earlier said most of the missing people were foreign nationals including Chinese. He said the mobile phone signals of the missing people were tracked to be coming from the second floor of the factory. South Korean media reported that much of the blaze were put out. The exact cause of the fire wasn't immediately known. Kim said a total of 102 people were working at the factory before the fire occurred.

VIDEO: South Korean firefighter searching the missing factory employees 

Of the 23 people missing in the fire, 20 are believed to be foreigners, including Chinese nationals, they said, adding the number is subject to change as the daily list of full and part-time workers was destroyed.

South Korean govt calls urgent meeting 

The government called an urgent session of the Central Disaster and Safety Countermeasure Headquarters in the afternoon to strategise on reducing casualties from the disaster. During the session, Minister of the Interior and Safety Lee Sang-min urged all pertinent government bodies and local administrations to deploy every resource and personnel available to quell the fire and save survivors.

The fire started at one of the factory buildings owned by a company named Aricell. Kim Jin-young, a local fire official, said the victims likely failed to escape via stairs to the ground. He said that authorities will investigate whether there were fire extinguishing systems at the site and if they worked. Kim said a total of 102 people were working at the factory before the fire occurred. He said that two of the eight injured were in serious conditions.

Earlier, President Yoon Suk Yeol directed Minister Lee to spare no effort in searching for and rescuing the missing individuals, utilising all manpower and equipment at their disposal.

What caused the blaze?

The blaze began in the morning after a series of battery cells exploded inside a warehouse with some 35,000 units, Kim said. Firefighters were seen spraying the damaged steel and concrete building. Parts of the upper level had collapsed, and large chunks of the building looked like they had been blown out into the street by an explosion. Aerial footage showed massive smoke clouds billowing from the structure.

South Korea's Prime Minister Han Duck-soo, the country's second-most powerful official, and Interior and Safety Minister Lee Sang-min visited the site later Monday. Han asked officials to provide government assistance for funeral services and support programmes for victims' relatives, according to Han's office.

In the past few decades, many people from China, including ethnic Koreans, have migrated to South Korea to seek jobs. Like other foreign migrants from Southeast Asian nations, they often end up in factories or in physically demanding and low-paying jobs shunned by more affluent South Koreans.

(with inputs from agencies)

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