SEOUL – At least 37 people died and 131 were injured, after a fire broke out Friday at a hospital in the South Korean city of Miryang, according to updated official information.
The death toll was brought down to 37 from 41 by a Ministry of Health spokesperson, who added the cause of the fire was still unknown, reported news agency Yonhap.
“We promised to make sure this kind of incident won’t happen again, and I’m ashamed to say the same thing,” said Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon, who had visited the hospital and offered a public apology, according to the Yonhap report.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in had also ordered more medical personnel to be sent to the centers, according to a statement.
The blaze started around 7:30 am in the emergency room on the first floor of the main building of Sejong Hospital, located in Miryang, a city with a population of about 100,000 people, located about 280 kilometers (174 miles) southeast of Seoul, the police said.
It took the firefighters about three hours to extinguish the fire, which started when there were around 180 people in the building.
The fire completely destroyed the first floor of the building, but did not affect any of the higher floors, preventing greater casualties.
More than 200 people, mostly patients who were in the hospital at the time of the incident, and residents of an old age home nearby, were transferred to nearby medical centers.
The injured – 18 of whom are in serious condition – have been sent to 14 different medical centers.
The accident comes only a month after a fire broke out at a gym in the central city of Jecheon, killing 29 people and injuring 36.
South Korean police has said that it will carry out a thorough investigation to determine the causes of the fire.
The director of the hospital said at a press conference that the fire may have been caused by a short circuit in the hospital’s air conditioning or in a room used for sterilizing surgical instruments.
This is the worst fire accident in South Korea since 2008, when 40 workers had died in a warehouse blaze in the commuter town of Icheon, located to the southeast of Seoul.