At least 20 North Korean construction workers were killed last month when an electric fire ripped through their whereabouts at the Pyongyang construction site while they were sleeping, RFA reported.
The workers were part of a semi-military’s construction brigade “Storm soldiers”, tasked with building 10,000 houses in the North Korean capital. They worked tiring hours during the day, returning to their hurried workers’ dormitory to sleep about three hours a night.
Sources told RFA that a faulty wiring in their temporary living area caused a fire on March 30 and many people were unable to get out as it engulfed the entire building.
“Late last month, more than 20 soldiers in the storm were killed at a residential construction site in Pyongyang, where they live and work,” a source in Pyongyang told RFA’s Korean Service on Monday.
The source asked to remain anonymous said: “The project command has investigated and found the cause is a short circuit in an electrical wire.
The exhausted workers were unable to evacuate, although the fire only lasted for a short time, the source said.
“The storm shelter of the soldiers at the construction site was hastily constructed. The roof and walls are made of vinyl planks and film and the wiring is not done properly. The electric wires are tangled, short electric leads to fire “, the source said.
“Because their residential area was hastily built with flammable materials, it burned down after about 10 minutes. If they were evacuated soon after the fire started, there would be fewer casualties… The night watchman fell asleep, a lot of people died, ”the source said.
The authorities gave managers unrealistic deadlines for completing their projects. The great pressure forced many outfits to ignore the safety of workers, the source added.
“Once the accident occurred, the authorities blamed all the construction officials, they said it was their negligence.”
“The people of Pyongyang are concerned. They say there are many workers who have been victims of accidents at the construction sites, and they don’t know how many more people will be sacrificed in the future. Construction command knew that the order to complete 10,000 houses in such a short time was absurd, but they did not dare to object to the order of the Central Party. This is what forced the workers to sacrifice, “the source said.
Another source from the capital confirmed the fire to RFA, saying that many workers were cramped in temporary shelters, and some even lived in tents.
“The living conditions of those construction workers are poor, even though the construction commander asks them to take radical measures for their own safety. But most of the people who took part in the storm fell into deep sleep as soon as they went to bed, ”said the second source who requested anonymity and freely said.
“They are exhausted from 12 to 14 hours of hard labor a day, so that’s why most of the storm soldiers in the barracks die.
According to the second source, the number of deaths due to construction increased in North Korea after leader Kim Jong Un took office in 2011 and considered large-scale national projects as the top priority to promote. his own file.
“The construction commanders are very eager to get results within the deadline set by the party. They never mentioned the safety issues or the unjust sacrifices of the construction workers, and this is causing outrage among the people ”.
Accidents at construction sites are relatively common, but casualties are often single. RFA has reported a number of major construction accidents over the past few years.
In May 2015, RFA reported that 20 people were killed while working on a hydroelectric project in the northern province of Ryanggang, during two separate spill tunnel collapses in March and April. there. Twenty are the latest of hundreds of people killed at the power plant since construction began two decades earlier.
A year earlier, RFA reported that an unfinished 23-storey apartment building in Pyongyang collapsed, possibly hundreds of people living inside.
The North Korean central news agency (KCNA) said the construction of the apartment building “was not done properly and officials irresponsibly monitor and control it”, in a rare revelation that a the accident happened.
Although KCNA did not release the death toll, a South Korean official told domestic and international media that 92 families may be living in the apartment complex at that time.
Report by Myungchul Lee for RFA Korea Service. Translation by Leejin Jun. Written in English by Eugene Whong.