The death toll jumped to 29 as rescue workers searched a scorched, smoke-filled commercial building in the southern city of Jecheon on Thursday after a fire engulfed the building, firefighters said.
The fire started from a vehicle in the first floor parking lot of an eight-story building in the city, 168 kilometers southeast of Seoul, according to the authorities. The building houses a fitness center, restaurants and a public sauna.
A total of 29 people, including a 50-year-old woman surnamed Kim, were found dead, mosly trapped in the sauna on the second floor, they said.
Another 26 people were injured, mostly from inhaling smoke, and sent to hospitals for treatment. Earlier, some 20 others were rescued from the rooftop where they were taking refuge from the fire.
About 49 fire engines and trucks as well as 60 firefighters were sent to the scene along with two firefighter helicopters.
The fire was largely put out as of Thursday night and firefighters have started to search the inside of the building, but unusually heavy smoke and toxic gas from the fire is delaying the rescue operation, the authorities said.
They said the death toll could possibly increase as the rescue work continues.
President Moon Jae-in shortly expressed grief at the accident and instructed efforts to minimize dealth toll.
Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon paid an emergency visit to the Ministry of the Interior and Safety and directed officials to "make utmost efforts for speedy rescue and firefighting operations." (Yonhap)