GOYANG, Gyeonggi Province -- When Kim, a worker at a diner, opened the door to look outside at around 8:40 p.m. Tuesday, she found the ground was flooded with hot water, and the air was thick with steam.
“It was chaos. There was hot muddy water on the ground. And as we tried to evacuate the building, we could not see anything ahead of us because of the steam,” Kim, who only gave her surname, told The Korea Herald on Wednesday.
“I cannot fully describe the fear. I thought to myself ‘This is how I’m going to die,’” Kim said.
(Video shot and edited by Lee So-jeong/The Korea Herald)
Just in front of her diner located near Baekseok Station in Ilsan, Gyeonggi Province, a water pipeline buried 2.5 meters underground ruptured on Tuesday night, spewing out a column of 100 degrees Celsius water and flooding a 30,000-square-meter area around the site for about an hour.
One man died inside his car while driving on the road. Dozens of people sustained burns and are being treated at nearby hospitals.
“The hot water was coming out like a cascade. We instinctively thought we had to go up. We could not see what was ahead of us, so we almost crawled up the staircase of the building,” Kim said.
The owner of her diner, who was wearing a pair of slippers, sustained serious burns on both feet, Kim said.
Sohn Man-seon, who runs a small snack store in front of the accident site, had to close the shop two hours later than usual because he could not leave the area.
“The road was blocked, and obviously we could not go out. I could go home at around 11 p.m. yesterday, after the hot water receded,” Sohn, 61, said.
According to police, a 67-year-old man, identified by his surname Sohn, was killed, as he was driving past the road around the ruptured pipeline that sent boiling water and debris into the air.
The front window of his car was smashed, and debris from the explosion hit Sohn, who sustained burns as hot water gushed into his car.
“The victim appears to have suffered from serious burns when hot water rushed into the car. The exact cause of death requires further investigation,” said Lee Bong-young, head of Ilsan Fire Department.
Sohn was said to have been heading back home after dinner with his daughter and her fiance when the accident occurred.
More than 40 people -- passers-by and residents in the surrounding area -- sustained serious burns and scalding injuries.
The supply of heating and hot water was shut overnight for 2,861 households in the nearby areas. They were restored at round 8 a.m. Wednesday.
“There was no hot water all night last night. Who would have thought such a thing could happen? I was so scared,” said Lee Ji-eun, a resident of an apartment near the accident site, told The Korea Herald.
Full restoration of the pipeline is expected to take four to five more days, accordingo to the district heating agency.
After a preliminary site inspection Wednesday, Ilsan Dongbu Police Station announced the accident was caused by an aging pipeline.
“Part of the old pipeline appears to have burst when it could no longer withstand the internal pressure. We will conduct another joint inspection to determine the exact cause,” police said.
The pipeline that burst was 85 centimeters thick, and the rupture measured 40 centimeters. According to Korea District Heating Corp., the pipeline was installed in 1991. The expected lifespan of the pipeline is 50 years.
“Except for the ruptured part, we found the pipeline normal. We will conduct a detailed joint investigation after we clear up the scene,” police added.
The KDHC issued a public apology Wednesday, and vowed to makes sure they come up with proper measures to reinforce the safety.
Authorities work to clear up the scene on Wednesday. (Jo He-rim/The Korea Herald)
“We apologize to the victim and his bereaved family, and also others suffering from injuries and experienced heating outage,” the district heating agency said in a statement.
“We will conduct thorough investigations to determine the exact cause of the incident and come up with measures to prevent future incident.”
Police will investigate KDHC officials to see any of them should be charged with any offenses related to the case.
The Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy also announced it will conduct a comprehensive inspection of heating pipelines that were installed before 1998, in five planned cities across the country -- Ilsan, Jungdong, Sanbon, Pyeongchon and Bundang -- until Dec. 12.
Analyzing the results, the Energy Ministry said it will come up with a thorough pipeline management plan by early next year.
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