SEOUL: The small South Korean city of Jecheon was reeling Friday, a day after a fire ripped through an eight-storey building, killing at least 29 people, mostly women trapped in a sauna, on what should have been a day of celebration ahead of the Winter Olympics.
Organizers called off a leg of the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Games torch relay as President Moon Jae-in arrived to comfort mourners.
Jecheon’s mayor told reporters the city was considering a mass funeral and planned to cover most of the costs.
All but one of the victims had been identified, including 20 women who were overcome by toxic fumes in a second-floor sauna, Jecheon fire chief Lee Sang-min said.
Investigators were still trying to find out the cause of the conflagration, but were focusing on a first-floor parking lot, he said.
“There were cars parked on the first floor, and as they were burning, a large amount of toxic gases were released.”
Tragic stories began to emerge as victims were identified.
One man told the Yonhap news agency that he lost his mother, wife, and daughter. Another said he received a phone call from his trapped wife as she coughed in the gathering smoke, but was later unable to reach her again.
Heavy smoke charred glass facade of the building as firefighters struggled to extinguish the blaze, climbing up and down a ladder in a desperate search for survivors.
Jecheon is southeast of the capital Seoul and is popular with visitors to its mountains and lakes. The Games begin in February. —Reuters