S. Korea officials admit responsibility in Halloween tragedy By John Chan
BBC News, Seoul
Injured people wait while ambulances are rushed to the aftermath of a fire, in a building in Seoul, southern Korea, on 29 October (EPA)
In South Korea, every year, on the night of 31 October, almost 10,000 people are killed in the country’s biggest tragedy – a series of housefires that swept through large parts of the capital and neighbouring areas, killing thousands.
Seoul officials and bereaved families call it a “holocaust” and blame North Korea for what has become a public relations nightmare for South Korea.
Although North Korea has offered its own explanation for the fires, Seoul remains firm in its contention that Pyongyang is responsible.
This week, the South Korean government took the unprecedented step of admitting it is responsible for the tragedy, citing a recent rash of blazes in the country.
The city has long suffered from the effects of a severe fuel and power shortage, as well as long and costly power grid failures in the 2000s and the 2011 earthquake, which contributed to its worsening power crisis.
Seoul was at the centre of a prolonged power crisis in October 2010 when a blackout caused widespread power outages, triggering a fire in a building housing the headquarters of Seoul Metropolitan Government, as well as that of the Korean National Fire Agency.
The collapse of a building led to a fire and the deaths of 29 people on 29 October 2010 in Seoul (EPA)
South Korea has a population of 25 million, and the Seoul region the second largest in the country, and the only one to suffer such a large disaster caused by a power failure.
South Korea’s power sector has been troubled with ageing facilities and decades-old equipment.
In the latest blackout, an estimated 2,500 people lost power on 29 October 2010, but the number of dead was much higher – the number may reach 4,000 people, or more than 10,000.
Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon says the situation is getting worse. “This is not only due to a fuel shortage, but also due to our power grid which is outdated and is not able to cope with the rapid increases in demand.
“It is not going to be fixed by just extending the power grid. We need to use innovative new technologies and make it fully digital by replacing the entire grid. We do not have the infrastructure to