Fire kills 9 at Busan karaoke
By Kim Rahn
Nine people, including three Sri Lankan nationals, were killed and dozens were injured in a fire at karaoke rooms in Busan, Saturday.
The fire broke out at around 8:52 p.m. on the third floor of a six-story building in the bustling district of Bujeon-dong. Seven men and two women died from asphyxiation, according to police.
Among the victims, six were workers at a motor parts manufacturing firm, including three Sri Lankan employees. They had reportedly been working there since last summer. After having dinner at a company get-together they went to the karaoke.
Of the 25 people who were injured, one of them is in critical condition, police said.
Witnesses said the fire started in an empty room near the entrance to the karaoke. As the smoke spread throughout the entire floor, people panicked and were unable to find exits. There was no emergency sprinkler system in the building.
“The owner and employees of the karaoke said they didn’t inform customers of the fire and tried to extinguish it by themselves, but it spread too rapidly to be contained. Customers also didn’t realize a fire had started as many of them were drunk,” a police officer said.
Some witnesses said they heard an explosion before they noticed the fire. Police are investigating the possibility of a gas explosion together with the National Forensic Service, the fire department and utility firms.
Police also suspect the unique shape of the building was another cause for the many deaths. “In the pyramid-like structure, the windows of the karaoke were sloped 45 degrees. We suspect the victims couldn’t open the windows due to the structure of the building,” the policeman said.
The district is one of most popular entertainment areas in the port city where many young people gather on weekends. Most of the victims were in their 20s or 30s.
More than 20 fire engines and 120 firefighters were called upon to extinguish the fire. Customers in other shops and restaurants in the building escaped to the rooftop and were rescued.
Some witnesses criticized firemen for not promptly arriving at the scene and not reacting quickly enough. They said the fire was burning for 40 minutes before firemen began to take the victims out of the building.