People look at the fire-damaged Sungnyemun in downtown Seoul, Monday.
By Bae Ji-sook
Some citizens, filled with sorrow and anger, laid rows of white chrysanthemums in front of the collapsed Namdaemun (South Gate) Monday as they mourned the destruction of Korea's National Treasure No. 1.
From early in the morning, the site of the fire was filled with people visiting one of the most beloved architectural structures in the country. They took photographs as they gathered around guessing the causes of the sudden fire. Some expressed anger toward the government for what they call a manmade disaster.
They said the nation's self-respect also collapsed along with the demolished 610-year-old gate.
Some groups of Japanese and Chinese tourists also took photographs of the wreckage.
Broken pillars, wooden tiles and other material lay among the soot and rubble. Workers were busy trying to install fences around the site.
``I could not believe my ears when I heard the news. It was our pride. How could such a thing happen?'' 25-year-old university student Kim Sun-mi said. ``This is really heart-breaking and I thought I had to come and see,'' she added while clicking away with her camera to get pictures of the tragic site.
``It's really a shame. I have worked in this area for seven years, but never imagined such thing could happen,'' a street vender selling egg buns said.
Various theories were raised as to the fire's cause. ``I bet it's arson,'' Kim Young-chul, who introduced himself as a merchant at nearby Namdaemun Market, said. ``If only there was a surveillance camera to track down who it was!'' he sighed. He also criticized the police for failing to secure evidence at the site.
Internet users expressed their fury toward the government for having failed to manage such valuable national asset. The Web site of the Cultural Heritage Administration was abuzz with criticisms toward the office's staff for having had an alleged laid-back attitude at the beginning of the fire.
It was reported that the administration and fire fighters could not decide on how aggressively they should fight the fire for fear of unnecessarily damaging the highly valued building.
A netizen who identified herself as Kim Yun-mi, a mother of two, said government officials should take responsibility for the tragedy. ``I could not give any answers to my children as to why the building could not be saved,'' she said.
The administration drew more blame upon itself when it was later revealed that 23-year-old Kim Young-hun had warned the authorities last year of a possible arson attack on Namdaemun also known as Sungnyemun.
Civic groups also expressed regrets. The Young Korean Academy said the fire was a ``manmade disaster.'' ``If there was not enough protection, they should have not opened the gate to the public,'' it said.