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5-Floor Department Store Collapses, Killing Dozens

Los Angeles Times

A five-floor department store in one of the most posh neighborhoods of the South Korean capital collapsed Thursday, killing dozens, injuring more than 700 and trapping an unknown number of others under tons of mangled steel and concrete.

As more than 1,000 soldiers, police and rescue workers fought through the rubble amid fires, a cloud of toxic smoke and falling darkness, authorities here - who also appealed for and were to receive American military assistance and rescue equipment from as far away as Hawaii - launched a criminal investigation into the managers of the Sam Poong Department Store for faulty construction and negligence.

Witnesses said the store, which opened in 1989, reportedly atop a landfill, began showing cracks in the ceiling and warped floors, starting Thursday morning. Some restaurants in the building then shut down for the day.

But Sam Poong managers kept the store open, despite holding an emergency meeting at around 2 p.m. on the worsening problem, the Korean media reported.

At about 6 p.m., tragedy struck when the northern half of the massive pink structure began swaying - then quickly gave way.

A car buried in the underground parking garage beneath the store burst into flames and sent a toxic cloud spewing, temporarily halting rescue efforts. And authorities feared that the southern half of the blocklong building might also collapse because the H-beam holding the two sides together was weakening.

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