Apartment Complex Collapses in Pyongyang in 'Unimaginable Accident'

nkorea-collapse-may2014.gif A North Korean officer (top) apologizes to residents at the site where an apartment building collapsed in Pyongchon District in Pyongyang, May 17, 2014.

A 23-storey apartment building under construction in North Korea's capital Pyongyang has collapsed, with some reports suggesting that hundreds may have died.

Senior North Korean officials have publicly apologized for the "unimaginable" accident in the Pyongchon District last week, state media said Sunday in a rare public apology by the secretive hard-line state. No number of casualties was given.

The official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said the construction of the apartment building "was not done properly, and officials supervised and controlled it in an irresponsible manner."

South Korean officials suspect a considerable number of people may have been killed in the collapse of the building, which already had close to 100 families in residence.

"In North Korea, it is common that people move into a new apartment even before the construction is completed. About 92 households may have been living in the apartment," a South Korean government official said, speaking on condition of anonymity, Seoul's Yonhap news agency reported.

Residents Outraged

That could mean the casualties could be in the hundreds because a typical North Korean family has four members, said the Associated Press news agency, which quoted Pyongyang residents as expressing outrage over the incident.

However, it was not clear whether all the residents were inside at the time of the collapse, or that four people lived in each apartment, said the agency, which has a bureau in Pyongyang.

"This accident happened because they broke the rules and methods of construction," resident Pak Chol told The Associated Press. "After this accident, 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 reported that a "state emergency mechanism" has been formed to rescue survivors and treat the wounded, and that senior officials have met with bereaved families and citizens in the district to express "deep consolation and [issue an] apology."

Official bows in photo

North Korea's state-run newspaper Rodong Sinmun ran a photo in which an official was seen bowing deeply in apology towards hundreds of people who had gathered at what appeared to be a construction site, Yonhap said.

It is rare for the state media to reveal facts about an accident that takes place inside the reclusive country and for high-ranking officials to issue an official apology.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un "sat up all night, feeling painful" after being told about the accident, the KCNA agency said.

The rare official apology appears to be aimed at portraying Kim as a "sincere leader who pays great attention to public sentiment," Kim Yong-Hyun, professor of North Korean studies at Seoul's Dongguk University, was quoted by Agence France-Presse as saying.

North Korea in 2009 announced plans to build 100,000 new high-rise apartments in three districts in Pyongyang to mark the 100th anniversary in 2012 of the birth of its founder Kim Il Sung, grandfather of the current leader.

The project went ahead despite chronic food shortages elsewhere in the impoverished nation.

Reported by RFA's Korean Service. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.

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