Sampoong Department Store collapse
The Sampoong Department Store collapse was a structural failure that occurred on 29 June 1995, in the Seocho-gu district of Seoul, South Korea. The collapse is the largest peacetime disaster in South Korean history, killing 502 people and injuring 937. It was the deadliest modern building collapse until the collapse of the World Trade Center in New York City, and the deadliest non-deliberate building collapse until the 2013 Dhaka garment factory collapse near Dhaka, Bangladesh.
- “Endless Disaster, Disaster, Disaster,” declared one local headline in the wake of the Sampoong collapse. Not only had the public caught on to that pattern, but the investigation of the Sampoong Group and the government officials with which they dealt threw light on a staggering depth and breadth of corruption. Worse still, the thoroughgoing inspection of Seoul’s by then proudly characteristic towers found that one out of seven needed rebuilding, four out of five needed major repairs, and just one in 50 could qualify as safe.
- The investigation into the tragedy revealed that, in addition to the not well thought out fifth floor addition, the badly placed air conditioning units, and reducing the diameter and number of support columns, the collapse was a perfect storm of terrible engineering. Had the developers stuck to the original plans, the stucture would have been twice as strong as it needed to be. Given all of the errors, it was amazing that the structure had had stood for 6 years.
- 52 hours after the collapse, there was jubilation from the rescue workers and the families who had gathered around, as 24 people were pulled alive from the wreckage. They were all cleaners, who had been fortunate enough to be inside a basement dressing room which remained intact. However, they had little air and no food or water. Some of them drank their own urine to survive.
- "The Sampoong Department Store Collapse" in Great Disasters (21 June 2019)
- It was one of several man-made disasters that set off public hand-wringing over the human cost of South Korea's breakneck economic growth and drew attention to the sometimes lethal effects of corruption.
- Many of the casualties were women: sales clerks and housewives who had gone to the basement because the food department lowered prices on perishables in the late afternoon.
- Officials blamed the disaster on shoddy construction. Four executives of the shopping complex were arrested tonight on negligence charges. Police had said they knew the top floor was crumbling hours before the disaster but decided not to close and left without warning anyone.
- The owner, Lee Joon, has been arrested and there are demands from relatives of missing family members that he be tried for murder. Five civil servants, including two high-ranking ones, have been arrested on bribery and corruption charges for having allowed Mr. Lee to operate the building even though it did not meet safety code standards.
- The collapse of the fashionable store was one in a series of disasters in South Korea that were attributed to inadequate construction or to corruption. Several Seoul city officials face bribery charges relating to the collapse.
Quotes from survivors
"The Sampoong Department Store Collapse" in Great Disasters (21 June 2019)
- From across the store there was a sound like a subway train entering a station, and when we heard that sound people started running here and there. Suddenly a piece of concrete dropped on my head and I was knocked unconscious. After I awakened I was completely surrounded by darkness and all sides around me were closed in. There wasn’t any room. I cried for help and banged on the steel pipe beside me, but they couldn’t hear me from outside.
- Park Seung-Hyun, employee at the children’s department on basement level 1 of the building
- I can feel a hole in my head so large my finger can go through it, that’s how big it is. And I can feel something squiggly in a cut in my back, like my intestine. I don’t want to die. As I look around I think it’s just a wall that’s collapsed on me. I try calling out but there’s no answer. I think it’s just me who’s stuck here.
- Yoo Ji-Hwan, employee at the basement level 1 of the building