An apartment building under construction in Gwangju, South Korea, sustained damage during a partial collapse on Tuesday. Rescuers are searching for five missing workers. (Jung Hee-sung/Yonhap via AP)
By Kim Tong-Hyung
The Associated Press
SEOUL, South Korea – South Korean rescuers on Friday pulled a body from a heap of rubble at the construction site of a 39-story building that partially collapsed days earlier in the southern city of Gwangju.
City officials said the man, one of six construction workers who were missing after Tuesday’s collapse, was taken to a hospital where he was pronounced dead.
Dozens of rescue workers assisted by dogs, drones and heavy equipment have been deployed in the search, but their efforts have been slowed by concerns about the stability of the apartment building in the city’s Hwajeongdong district.
Approximately 10 vehicles were destroyed and the occupants of nearly 200 houses and shops nearby were forced to evacuate following the collapse, which sent debris spilling across streets and left a huge pile of broken concrete at the bottom of the structure, exposing mangled steel beams.
The incident has triggered public anger in a country that has long grappled with deadly accidents attributed to lax safety standards and regulations, which experts say were often overlooked during rapid economic growth.
Police and officials from the Ministry of Employment and Labor on Friday raided a local office of HDC Hyundai Development, the project’s main contractor, as part of an investigation into whether the company violated safety laws.
President Moon Jae-in ordered officials to thoroughly investigate the cause of the collapse and come up with new safety measures to prevent similar accidents.
Some experts have speculated that insufficient time was allowed for the concrete to fully dry and set during the cold and snowy weather.
Rescuers search for workers unaccounted for following a partial building collapse in Gwangju, South Korea. (Chung Hoe-sung /Yonhap via AP)
HDC issued a statement that it “deeply apologizes to the people who are missing, their families and the citizens of Gwangju,” but did not comment specifically on the cause of the collapse.
The contractor plans to deploy unmanned excavators to clear the rubble and use nets and other safety measures in case the structure crumbles further, Gwangju Mayor Lee Yong-seop said. HDC also plans to remove a damaged crane that had been attached to the building.
The Gwangju government has suspended all five of HDC’s ongoing construction projects in the city and said it could force the company to tear down the damaged building and rebuild it from scratch if the structure’s safety isn’t assured.
HDC was also involved in a deadly accident in Gwangju in June 2021. As a five-story building was being demolished to accommodate new construction, the structure collapsed and debris fell onto a bus. Nine people aboard the bus were killed.
Officials said 394 workers – including the five still missing – were employed at the Hwajeongdong construction site. Emergency workers on Tuesday rescued three laborers, including two who had been trapped in a shipping container hit by debris, but search operations were halted hours later over concerns that the structure could collapse further.
The search resumed on Wednesday after a safety inspection by government and private experts, who concluded it was safe for rescuers to search the building’s interior. The inspectors were concerned about sections near the crumbled exterior and the heap of rubble; those areas were mostly searched by dogs and drones.