Rare official apology for building collapse in Pyongyang

Official news agency says disaster at residential high-rise has distressed leader Kim Jong-un

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 18 May, 2014, 10:27am
UPDATED : Monday, 19 May, 2014, 5:01pm


North Korean officials offered a rare public apology for the collapse of an apartment building under construction in Pyongyang, which a South Korean official said may have caused hundreds of deaths.

The word of the collapse in the secretive nation's capital was reported yesterday morning by the North's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).

It gave no death toll but said the accident was "serious" and had upset North Korea's leader, Kim Jong-un.

The report said it occurred in the capital's Phyongchon district on Tuesday "as the construction of an apartment house was not done properly and officials supervised and controlled it in an irresponsible manner".

In Seoul, a South Korean government official speaking on condition of anonymity said the 23-storey apartment building that collapsed was presumed to have housed 92 families.

That would mean the casualties could be in the hundreds because a typical North Korean family has four members.

However, it was not clear that all the residents were inside at the time of the collapse, or that four people lived in each apartment.

It is not unusual for people to start living in apartments before construction is complete.

The official said he did not have any figure for the actual death toll.

According to the KCNA report, the rescue operation ended on Saturday and officials apologised to bereaved families and district residents. On the streets of Pyongyang yesterday, people expressed outrage over the incident.

"This accident happened because they broke the rules and methods of construction," resident Pak Chol said.

"We must make sure that this kind of terrible accident never happens again, by sticking to the proper method of building."

Another resident, Hong Nam-hyok, said that "everyone in Pyongyang is now sharing the sorrow of the victims and the bereaved families".

The KCNA report cited one official as saying that Kim Jong-un "sat up all night, feeling painful after being told about the accident".

The building collapse also came at a time when the South Korean government has received near daily criticism from its citizens, as well as regular bashing by North Korean media, for its handling of last month's ferry sinking that left more than 300 people dead or missing.