South Korean officials rushed to identify 37 victims of a hospital fire and pinpoint the cause of the worst blaze in years on Saturday as opposition politicians blamed the president for failing to avoid the latest in a series of tragedies.
Flames and toxic smoke swept through the Sejong Hospital in the southern city of Miryang on Friday, injuring more than 150, just weeks after a fire killed 29 people at a fitness centre. All the hospital victims died from smoke inhalation.
City vice mayor Lee Byung-hee said the cause of Friday’s blaze was under investigation.
“We are trying to comprehensively manage [the blaze fallout], including supporting what would be needed for funerals etc,” Lee said in a televised briefing.
The government of Asia’s fourth-largest economy, with one of the world’s fastest ageing populations, has faced criticism in recent years over poor safety standards, including the Sewol ferry disaster of 2014 in which more than 300 people, mostly schoolchildren, drowned.
Hospital director Song Byeong-cheol said the six-storey hospital did not have a sprinkler system and was not large enough to require one under the law.
The opposition Liberal Party were quick to condemn President Moon Jae-in.
“The Moon Jae-in administration should have at least kept South Koreans safe, to justify the launch of this government,” the party said in a statement, demanding a “master plan” to protect citizens.
Moon’s ruling Democratic Party said it would support the investigation and “embark on parliamentary discussions to legally support and protect citizens lives and safety”, a spokesman said.
Many survivors “walked though fire and smoke” to escape, a city official told Reuters on Friday.