Death toll continues to rise in S. Korean subway fire

Clues suggest at least 190 killed

cover-up is alleged

February 27, 2003|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

SEOUL, South Korea - Fine-grained ash in the twisted wreckage has yielded evidence of the deaths of 50 more people in the fire that raged through two subway trains last week, bringing the death toll to nearly 200, officials said yesterday.

"I know that 190 people have died," said Chung Hee Gwon, on the staff of the subway system in Daegu, a major commercial center in southeastern Korea. "There could be more."

Forensic experts described the scene in four cars on one train as resembling a crematorium. Identification of most of the remains will be impossible.

Officials noted such clues as tiny bone fragments, fillings in teeth and melted pieces of jewelry as all the evidence they had of many of the deaths. They said they have been able to attach only 54 names to the remains with any certainty.

The grisly search process has been so slow and laborious that grieving relatives have staged demonstrations and candlelight vigils, alleging a high-level cover-up of facts and demanding the resignation of the mayor. Relatives said they had searched garbage heaps, finding proof of the loss of loved ones, including bits of jewelry discarded by investigators.

Kim Hye Jung, representing relatives and friends of more than 300 people reported as missing, demanded that authorities in Daegu turn over the investigation to a higher level of government. She said investigators, in their haste to clear the station where the two trains burned on opposite tracks, had thrown away evidence, including body parts.

Yoon Jin Tae, president of Daegu Subway Corp., was dismissed yesterday for errors in the investigation. Nine subway officials have been jailed, charged with negligent manslaughter.

The former truck driver who admits setting the fire, Kim Dae Han, 56, charged with arson and manslaughter, remains under guard in the same hospital room as three critically injured victims.

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