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21 dead in South Korea hospital fire; 81-year-old man in custody

Published on May 28, 2014 6:00 AM

SEOUL (REUTERS) – A fire at a rural South Korean hospital for chronically ill elderly patients on Wednesday killed 21 people and injured eight in the second major fire this week s the country still mourns victims of a ferry disaster last month.

The midnight blaze at the hospital in the southwest region of Jeolla was put out relatively quickly, but most of the victims were elderly patients unable to walk or move freely, leading to the large number of casualties, fire officials said.

An 81-year-old man is in police custody and is being questioned on suspicion of arson after he was seen on surveillance camera walking into an empty room where the fire is believed to have started, a police official said by telephone.

The man has been identified as a patient at the hospital and is suffering from dementia, the official said.

All the victims were on the second floor of one building, and most of them suffered smoke inhalation, a local fire department official said.

The hospital held patients who required long-term care, many with dementia or disability as a result of a stroke, local media reports said.

In another fire on Wednesday morning, one person was injured when a fire broke out at a discount chain's parking lot in central Seoul, Xinhua news agency reported, quoting local tv station YTN.

The fire started at around 9.10am local time at a parking lot on the fifth floor of the discount chain Homeplus and was extinguished completely some 20 minutes later. No deaths were reported.

The fire was believed to have been caused by an overheated engine of a car parked there. 

A firefighter works at the scene of a fire at a hospital in Jangseong, south-west region of Jeolla on May 28, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS 
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