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Fire at South Korea battery factory kills more than 20 workers in Hwaseong city, near Seoul

Seoul, South Korea — A fire at a lithium battery manufacturing factory near South Korea's capital killed more than 20 people on Monday, most of them workers from China, officials said. Rescue workers at the factory in Hwaseong city, just south of Seoul, retrieved the bodies after combing through the site, local fire official Kim Jin-young told a televised briefing.

The Reuters news agency quoted Kim as saying at least 18 Chinese workers were killed, along with one Laotian, according to company officials. The nationalities of at least three other fatalities reported by Kim remained unclear.
He said the mobile phone signals of missing people were tracked to the second floor of the factory. Kim said a witness told authorities that the fire began after batteries exploded as workers were examining and packaging them, but the exact cause would be investigated.

Emergency personnel transport the body of a victim at the scene of a fire at a lithium battery factory owned by South Korean battery maker Aricell in Hwaseong, June 24, 2024. ANTHONY WALLACE/AFP/Getty

Kim said those found dead likely failed to escape via stairs to the ground. He said officials would investigate whether fire extinguishing systems worked as designed.

He said a total of 102 people were working at the factory when the fire occurred.

Live video broadcast by South Korean television showed firefighters dousing the heavily damaged steel and concrete building, and parts of the upper floor had completely collapsed, with large chunks of concrete seemingly blown out into the street by the force of an explosion.  

Kim Jae-ho, a fire and disaster prevention professor at Daejeon University, told Reuters the fire likely spread too quickly for many workers to escape.

"Battery materials such as nickel are easily flammable," he was quoted as saying. "So often, there is not enough time to respond, compared to a fire caused by other materials."

Emergency workers gather next to the site of a fire at a lithium battery factory owned by South Korean battery maker Aricell in Hwaseong, June 24, 2024.  ANTHONY WALLACE/AFP/Getty

President Yoon Suk Yeol earlier ordered officials to mobilize all available personnel and equipment to find survivors, according to his office.

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