Hundreds feared dead in North Korea building collapse
Reclusive state makes rare apology following Pyongyang disaster
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un walks with military officials during an inspection of the Korean People’s Army in Pyongyang this week. Photograph: KCNA/Reuters
North Korea has apologised to bereaved families after an apartment building collapsed in Pyongyang last week, possibly killing hundreds, the official KCNA news agency said.
The apology is a rare admission of fallibility from the reclusive state.
The KCNA report cited one official as saying North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un “sat up all night, feeling painful after being told about the accident”.
Pyongyang’s expression of “profound consolation and apology” was the first official news of the disaster, which happened in the Phyongchon district of the North Korean capital on Tuesday. The highly-controlled state media for the authoritarian regime rarely report news that might be considered negative.
“The construction of an apartment house was not done properly and officials supervised and controlled it in an irresponsible manner,” said the statement from KCNA, which is better known for its strident attacks against South Korea and the United States.
The KCNA statement also said the collapse of the apartment building “claimed casualties” but did not give any indication of how many may have been killed or injured. It said a rescue operation ended yesterday.
An official from South Korea’s unification ministry confirmed today that a 23-storey apartment building had collapsed in Pyongyang on Tuesday, although he would not say from where the information had been obtained.
The official, who asked not to be identified, said the building was presumed to have held 92 households, or families, and that it was common for North Koreans to move into new buildings before construction was completed.
“Hundreds are presumed to be dead, assuming that each family has an average of four members,” he said.
A spokeswoman for the unification ministry said it was presumed there were four households on each storey but she also said it was not known exactly how many were in the building at the time.
The KCNA statement said North Korean authorities put emergency measures into place to rescue people from the collapsed building and to treat the injured.
It said that Choe Pu Il, North Korea’s Minister of People’s Security, had “repented”, saying he had failed to supervise the project adequately, “thereby causing an unimaginable accident”.
The rare apology from the North came while South Korean president Park Geun-hye’s administration faces criticism for its handling of a ferry disaster that killed more than 300 people, many of them schoolchildren, last month.
The North launched vitriolic criticism of Ms Park in the wake of that disaster.
Last night, tens of thousands people attended a candlelight vigil in Seoul for victims of the ferry disaster.
Some marched to the presidential palace demanding Ms Park resign, with police arresting 115 of the protesters.