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Large Number of Casualties Seen in North Korea Building Collapse

Grieving families
Families of victims of building collapse grieve during a gathering in Pyongyang. Photographer: Jon Chol Jin/AP Photo

May 19 (Bloomberg) -- The collapse of a 23-story residential building in the North Korean capital of Pyongyang that was inhabited by 92 families likely caused a large number of casualties, a South Korean official said.

The May 13 collapse in the Phyongchon district led senior North Korean officials to publicly apologize, while leader Kim Jong Un was “too heartbroken to sleep,” the country’s official Korean Central News Agency said yesterday.

An exact casualty count was unknown, the government official in Seoul said today by phone, requesting anonymity due to policy. South Korea’s Dong-a Ilbo newspaper reported more than 160 people died, citing an unidentified Chinese businessman returning from North Korea. The collapse caused hundreds of casualties, Chosun Ilbo reported separately, citing a government official.

“The accident happened in a posh section of Pyongyang and may have involved party officials and senior figures,” Seo Yu Seok, a researcher at the Institute of North Korea Studies in Seoul, said by phone. “It’s unusual North Korea would reveal this, but it shows a tendency that’s been increasing under Kim, who is trying to make his country look normal.”

The collapse follows the April 16 sinking of a ferry in South Korea that left more than 300 people dead or missing. President Park Geun Hye apologized today over the sinking at a nationally televised briefing in Seoul and said she would disband the coast guard for botching rescue operations.

The North’s KCNA said that workers cut corners and neglected supervision when they built the building that collapsed and that Choe Pu Il, Minister of People’s Security, and other officials apologized to Pyongyang residents.

To contact the reporter on this story: Sam Kim in Seoul at skim609@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Rosalind Mathieson at rmathieson3@bloomberg.net Andrew Davis, Stuart Biggs

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