10:23 pm - Wednesday November 11, 2015

After South Korea Hospital Fire Kills 21, a Patient Is Held

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SEOUL, South Korea — A fire broke out at a hospital annex in southwestern South Korea early Wednesday, killing 21 people and injuring seven others and further rattling a country still traumatized by a recent ferry disaster. The police were holding a patient in connection with the fire.

The police said that 20 of the dead were elderly patients, many of whom had been hospitalized for dementia or stroke complications. A female nurse on night duty was also killed.

The fire started on the second floor of a two-story annex to Hyosarang Hospital in Jangseong, in southwestern South Korea.

The police in Jangseong said they had detained a patient with dementia who was suspected of starting the fire. The fire broke out in a room shortly after the patient, in his early 80s, entered it, the police said, citing the hospital’s closed-circuit TV footage.

The second floor of the annex was housing 34 long-term patients, most of them in their 70s and 80s, when the fire broke out. All first-floor patients were safely evacuated. South Korean television footage showed firefighters performing CPR on patients they had rescued.

Seven patients were injured, six of them seriously hurt, raising fears that the death toll could rise.

The national news agency Yonhap reported that some of the patients killed were found with their hands tied to their beds. It also said that the windows of the second-floor rooms had been barred to prevent patients with dementia from falling out.

A police officer in Jangseong said that he could not immediately confirm the news report but that the victims appeared to have died of smoke inhalation.

The officer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of his office’s policy, said that many of the patients could not move on their own.

Lee Hyong-seok, the head of the hospital, knelt and bowed before cameras on Wednesday, apologizing for the accident. He said he was checking the report that some of the patients had been tied to their beds.

The country has been on edge since a ferry with many high school students on board sank off southwestern South Korea on April 16, leaving more than 300 people dead or missing.

On Monday, seven people were killed after a fire swept through a five-story bus terminal in Goyang, just northwest of Seoul.

The string of accidents has eroded confidence in the country’s public safety measures.

Another fire believed to have been arson forced hundreds of people to flee a Seoul subway station on Wednesday. Seoul Metro, the operator of the subway, said a fire broke out in a subway car just as the train was pulling into Dogok Station in southern Seoul. The police said they were questioning a man in his 70s for a possible arson charge.

The fire was put out by subway officials, and no death or serious injury was reported.

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