A serious accident occurred at a construction site in the Phyonchon district of Pyongyang on May 13, KCNA reported on Saturday.
The accident, which took place at the construction site of an apartment building, occurred because the construction “was not done properly and officials supervised and controlled it in an irresponsible manner.”
While the report said that there were casualties, it did not provide any figures. However, a government official in South Korea quoted by the AP said that up to “hundreds” could have died, suggesting up to 92 families may have been living in the apartment complex.
Authorities reportedly conducted an intensive four day campaign to rescue survivors, treat casualties and clean up the site. The rescue operations concluded on May 17, after which officials made public statements about the accident.
Rather than provide much detail about the accident, state media primarily emphasized the grief felt by officials and the government’s efforts to make amends for the situation. Kim Jong Un reportedly “sat up all night, feeling painful after being told about the accident” and “instructed leading officials… to rush to the scene, putting aside all other affairs, and command the rescue operation.”
Notably, state media placed blame on officials supervising the project – though at level and organization is unknown – and high-ranking officials personally and publicly accepted responsibility for the incident.
“A collapse of a huge apartment complex in the center of the capital is not something which can be easily hidden from foreigners – the only people who really matter,” said Dr. Andrei Lankov, a North Korea watcher at Kookmin University in Seoul. “So, they admitted it … (KCNA) understood that the incident could not possibly be hidden from foreigners.”
Choe Pu Il, the Minister of People’s Security, said that “he failed to find out factors that can put at risk the lives and properties of the people … thereby causing an unimaginable accident.”
Ri Yong Sik, Chief Secretary of the Phyongchon District Committee of the WPK, said “he failed to protect the precious lives of the people,” and that he would “find out every possible cause of accidents and take preventive measures.”
The report suggested that Pyongyang appeared intent on assuring people that the leadership – especially in the party and the security apparatus – both felt great sympathy and grief over the accident and would take measures to prevent further such incidents from occurring.
North Korea’s state-controlled media does not often report such internal problems unless there is propaganda value for the regime.
In recent weeks, North Korea has been deeply critical of the South Korean government’s handling of the Sewol ferry disaster.
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