April 29, 1995 in Nation/World

Students Take Brunt Of Gas Explosion About 60 Of 98 Killed In South Korean Blast Were Children Headed To School

Associated Press
 
Tags:Death

Dozens of children arriving for school were caught in a tower of flame or tossed into the air in cars and buses hit by a powerful underground gas explosion on Friday.

Their bloodied navy blue uniforms, schoolbags and textbooks lay scattered among the wreckage.

Of the 98 people killed, officials said about 60 of them were students in their early teens heading to seven middle schools during the morning rush hour. As many as 200 people were injured and others were trapped in the debris.

“There are torn limbs, blood everywhere,” said rescue worker Choi Hong. “A lot of the people down there are kids, kids who were crushed to death.”

He was among some 3,900 soldiers, police, firefighters and volunteers working to rescue survivors, using bright lights after dark fell.

On Saturday morning, rescue workers found the body of a woman under a heavy metal sheet and three feet of water from a broken main. Workers said more bodies could still be trapped.

Officials said Friday the death toll was 103, but lowered that on Saturday, saying several bodies counted at the scene may have been counted again at the hospital.

Four people were still missing today. Cho Kyudong, an official at the central office for rescue efforts, said 125 people remained hospitalized.

Police said a spark from the subway construction site set off natural gas leaking from a broken pipeline in Taegu, a provincial capital of 2.2 million people about 140 miles south of Seoul.

The force of the blast scattered heavy steel sheets that were serving as a temporary four-lane road for a 300-yard stretch of the construction site. The sheets, each weighing more than 600 pounds, were found strewn atop buildings and houses as far as 150 feet away.

High school student Kim Dong-duk said he saw metal beams fly as high as a nearby 15-story apartment complex. Kim also watched from across the street as buses and cars carrying classmates were thrown in the air.

As many as 100 cars and city buses tumbled 30 feet into the exposed excavation site. Several buildings were gutted, and a dozen more were blackened by the explosion. Witnesses reported a tower of flame up to 150 feet high.

Huge cranes were used to lift beams trapping survivors. Passers-by cried and hugged each other as rescue workers carried out unconscious victims.Rescue efforts were hindered by a broken water main that officials feared could drown survivors trapped underground.

Schools closed early Friday and students headed for hospitals to look for friends and teachers.

They found virtual morgues. Sounds of suffering and mourning echoed in the hallways. Relatives sat next to covered bodies, beating the floor with their hands. Volunteers lined up to donate blood after hearing of shortages.

© Copyright 1995 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.


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