N.Korea in Rare Apology After Apartment Collapse

A 23-story apartment building in Pyongyang collapsed on May 13 killing or injuring hundreds of people. Although the building was incomplete, 92 apartments were already occupied and the death toll is likely to be high.

The official [North] Korean Central News Agency on Sunday said the fatal collapse in the Pyongchon district of the capital happened because "the construction work was not done properly and officials supervised it in an irresponsible manner."

KCNA did not say how many people were killed or injured.

A government official here said, "North Korea gives exact casualty figures only for natural disasters, but never for accidents the regime is responsible for." The official added Seoul would consider how it can help once a clearer assessment of the damage emerges.

◆ Rushed Construction

Shoddy construction appears to have been the reason for the collapse. "Construction was extremely rushed because the soldiers and university students who were mobilized to build the apartments raced each other to see which side would finish first," a source said.

"It also looks as if substandard concrete and steel were used due to embezzlement by officials involved in the project."

The government here estimates around 300 people were either injured or killed given that the building was 23 stories high and each floor contained four families of three or four people.

Residents were reportedly be part of Pyongyang's elite since they had to pay some US$30,000 to get one of the apartments just a 15-minute walk from Pyongyang Station.

A North Korean official bows in apology over the collapse of an apartment building in Pyongyang, in this picture released by the official Rodong Sinmun daily on Sunday. A North Korean official bows in apology over the collapse of an apartment building in Pyongyang, in this picture released by the official Rodong Sinmun daily on Sunday.

◆ Rare Apology

The KCNA report, which came out five days after the accident, was rare for North Korea. A government official here said many people died in the course of constructing a ski resort in Masikryong and a dam in Huichon, but none of those accidents was reported.

"The latest accident was probably difficult to conceal since it happened in an area populated by the elite," the official added.

There also appear to be concerns that a failure to deal effectively with the accident could damage support for North Korean leader Kim Jong-un among the elite.

KCNA on Sunday said the officials who were in charge of construction were eager to assume blame. This appears to be aimed at avoiding any taint on Kim.

People's Security Minister Choe Bu-il was shown bowing to the families of victims.

The North’s state media claimed Kim "sat up all night" after being told about the accident and instructed leading party and military officials to drop everything else and rush to the scene.

By Friday, three days after the accident, Kim had sufficiently recovered to watch a soccer match.

englishnews@chosun.com / May 19, 2014 12:07 KST