At least 37 people are dead and dozens injured following a Friday morning fire that broke out in a hospital emergency room in Miryang, a town in southeastern South Korea.
Administrators at Sejong Hospital, the fire site, said one doctor, one nurse and one nurse's assistant were among the casualties. He further said that some 80 percent of the fatalities were elderly patients.
"I am truly sorry. I am sorry for the patients and their caretakers," said Seok Jeong-sik, the director of Sejong Hospital.
The South Korean president, Moon Jae-in, convened an emergency meeting at the Blue House and called on the government to take "all necessary measures" to help survivors.
Sejong Hospital is a relatively small healthcare facility and the number of patients inside when the fire broke out totaled 177, according to the hospital director.
The local fire chief told reporters that the fire spread through the central staircase connecting all the floors from the ground level, and that firefighters contained the flames at the second floor.
Patients were moved to nearby facilities, but dozens died after reaching other hospitals, the local fire chief said.
"Inpatients at this hospital were mostly in ICU or elderly," Miryang Fire chief Choi Man-woo said. "Many of them suffered from respiratory disorders, which could have made them especially susceptible to the fire."
He says most victims died from suffocation.
An investigation is under way.
This fatal fire comes just a month after a fire in a sports center building that killed 29 people and led to criminal charges for negligence by the building's owners.
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
News this morning out of South Korea. A fire broke out in a hospital emergency room there and killed at least three dozen people. NPR's Elise Hu has more.
ELISE HU, BYLINE: So far, investigators don't know what started the flames, but they can speak of the fire's casualties. Most of the people killed were sick and elderly patients, the Sejong Hospital director says. One nurse, one doctor and a nursing assistant were also killed.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
SEOK JEONG-SIK: (Speaking Korean).
HU: "I am truly sorry. I'm sorry for the patients and their caretakers," Director Seok Jeong-sik said. At the scene in the southeastern Korean town of Miryang, investigators are poring over the scene of the fire that spread fast from a main stairwell and took two hours to put out. Fire Chief Choi Man-woo briefed reporters.
CHOI MAN-WOO: (Through interpreter) When I arrived at the scene, the flames and smoke were so severe, the sky was almost dark.
HU: Choi said his crews rushed to transfer patients to nearby facilities, but many died after the moves. With the death count near 40, this tragedy is already among the deadliest fires in South Korean history.
Elise Hu, NPR News, Seoul. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.