SEOUL, Jan. 5 (Korea Bizwire) — The latter half of last year was marked by a rash of high profile accidents that have made public safety a major concern for South Korean society.
Among the high profile incidents in the previous two months were a rare 5.4-magnitude earthquake that rocked the southeastern city of Pohang in November, and a deadly building fire in Jecheon that claimed 29 lives.
Just a bit over a week ago on December 28, a tower crane at a construction site in west Seoul collapsed onto a city road at approximately 9:40 a.m. Its jib, the extended “arm” of the tower crane, landed on the roof of a city bus that had momentarily parked aside a bus stop. Crushed underneath the crane’s weight, one 50-year old passenger was killed, while 15 were injured.
While those on the scene were naturally stunned by a brush with death that literally fell out of the sky, emergency relief who had rushed to the scene pointed out things could have been far worse, as the tower crane’s trolley had landed beyond the bus and on the road.
Exactly a week before the tower crane came crashing down on the heads of Seoul’s citizens, a nine-story sports complex was engulfed by fire in Jecheon, a city in North Chungcheong Province. The fire proved to be deadly, resulting in 29 casualties and 29 injured. The source was traced to the first floor parking lot, from which the flames rapidly spread upwards, traveling through the 2nd and 3rd floor saunas, devouring the 4th through 7th floor gym, and razing the restaurants on the top floor.
Heartrending tales of the victims and the families they left behind spread like wildfire. Particularly tragic circumstances, such as the man who lost his mother-in-law, sister-in-law, and niece in the fire or the helpless husband who listened to his wife, trapped inside the second floor women’s sauna and doomed to be one of the 20 who perished there, crying out to him to “save me” on the phone, were widely reported.
These disasters were preceded on December 3 by a collision between a deep sea fishing boat off the coast of Incheon and an oil tanker, leaving 13 dead. Two of the 22-person crew on the fishing boat were declared missing, though the body of one, the captain, was eventually found two days later.
And in November, the strongest earthquake in South Korean history since the the previous year’s 5.8 quake in nearby Gyeongju shook Pohang. Though no casualties were reported, the quake caused enough damage that the scheduled state-administered college entrance exam was postponed for the first time since it was introduced in 1994.
With a slew of disasters in the rearview mirror, authorities announced measures to ease the public’s fears and restore faith in public safety. The Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport announced on December 26 that it would launch a sweeping safety inspection into the tower cranes at 500 construction sites nationwide.
The inspections would take place between December 27 and January 19, and be conducted by a host of government ministries in conjunction with labor unions and municipalities.
Following the Jecheon fire, fire department personnel have been making the rounds of sauna establishments, ensuring emergency escape routes and protocols are clearly laid out.
However, a string of reports finding public bathhouses with blocked emergency exit doors and other signs of obvious neglect have done little to reduce anxiety.
Furthermore, the fact that a tower crane fell onto a city bus in Seoul two days after the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport revealed its plans for a safety inspection into tower cranes was stark proof that such an investigation may be long overdue.
The online community was abuzz with discussion revolving around public safety, anxiety and fear in the days following the tower crane accident in Seoul. One commenter didn’t mince words in delivering his opinion of the state of public safety, saying, “An absurd situation. The extent of disregard for safety standards is appalling.”
What another commenter wrote perhaps encapsulates what many South Koreans feel regarding the series of incidents. “This scares me to death, knowing that I might be killed at any moment,” the individual said.
Lina Jang (firstname.lastname@example.org)