Safety "Collapses" Again in Gwangju Because of "That" Construction Company

Kang Hyun-suk 입력 2022. 1. 12. 15:46
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[경향신문]

Outer Wall of a New Apartment Building Tumbles Down: The external wall of an apartment building collapsed on the afternoon of January 11, at the construction site of Hwajeong IPark Apartment Complex 2 in Hwajeong-dong, Seo-gu, Gwangju. The accident occurred while workers were casting concrete on the 39th floor. Yonhap News

The outer wall of a high-rise apartment building under construction in Gwangju collapsed severing communication with six workers. Authorities urgently evacuated nearby residents due to further risk of the building collapsing, while continuing the search for the workers.

At 3:46 p.m. on January 11, at the construction site of the Hwajeong IPark Complex 2 in Hwajeong-dong, Seo-gu, Gwangju, the external wall of one apartment building crumbled. The outer wall between the 24th and 34th floors collapsed while workers were casting concrete on the 39th floor.

Authorities are searching for the whereabouts of six workers who were working between the 28th and 31st floors of the building in question. After checking the status of workers on site along with the construction company, authorities confirmed that communication was lost with six workers, whose cell phones were traced to the vicinity of the accident. Reportedly, most of these workers were migrant workers, and they were installing windows in the building. Due to the risk of more accidents, the fire department suspended the search and plans to resume the search after a safety test in the morning.

One worker who was working on the first floor was hit by the debris and was removed to a nearby hospital to treat his injury. Two workers in the container office outside the building were also rescued after they were isolated. The debris from the building knocked down the construction site fence and spilled onto the two-lane road, damaging nearly a dozen vehicles parked nearby.

Rescue workers search for missing workers at the construction site of Hwajeong Hyundai IPark in Hwajeong-dong, Seo-gu, Gwangju where the outer wall of a newly built apartment building collapsed on January 11. Yonhap News

Authorities believed the building could collapse further and urgently evacuated 116 residents from 91 homes in a multi-purpose apartment building near the construction site and relocated them to motels.

Power supply was cut in the building where the accident occurred after the outer wall collapsed.

Hyundai Development Company oversaw the construction at the site where the accident happened. At the site, construction was underway to build five apartment buildings--each with 39 stories with an additional four stories underground--to accommodate 316 households. The construction began in March 2020 and was scheduled to be completed by this coming November 30. Currently, construction of the buildings’ outer walls was in the final stages.

At the time of the accident, concrete structures fell to the ground, instantly creating chaos on site. One corner of the apartment building collapsed at once, as if it were torn from top to bottom, creating a loud noise and huge amounts of dust.

The storeowner who ran from a nearby building after hearing the noise of the building collapse and sensing the ground shake dashed through the dust and escaped the scene along with his employees. Concrete fragments that dropped to the floor bounced into some of the stores. The image of a passerby in the area rushing to escape the scene was also captured by a closed-circuit camera.

Residents pointed out that the accident “was expected.” Residents had filed over 200 complaints in connection to this construction site, and the Gwangju Seo-gu Council members in charge of auditing administrative affairs had once criticized the district office for its passive response.

Hong (54), the head of management at a multi-purpose commercial building next to the construction site said, “For the last year and a half, we have filed hundreds of complaints at the Seo-gu Office and at Hyundai Development Company on the environment, construction and traffic, but they were all ignored.” He further explained, “We found incidents where the plywood, iron rod and concrete fragments fell from the upper part of the buildings and threats to safety, such as sunken areas and cracks in the road,” and added, “We had to tremble in fear every day.”

People in the construction industry raised allegations of faulty construction. In the winter when the temperature falls below zero, workers have to heat the concrete to an appropriate temperature. Experts believe this was not properly done, weakening the adhesive strength of the concrete and rebar, leading to the collapse.

There was a major disaster at another Hyundai Development Company construction site in Gwangju last year. Last June, in Zone 4 of Hak-dong, Dong-gu, Gwangju, a five-story building that was being torn down for a housing redevelopment project collapsed toward the street. The building knocked down a bus entering the bus station, killing nine people and severely injuring eight people.

A police investigation confirmed that illegal subcontracting was involved in the site of the building demolition at the time. The supervisor was not present on site and the work never proceeded according to the demolition plan that the company submitted to the district office.

After the accident, the National Assembly discussed a partial amendment of the Act on Building Management known as the “bill to prevent a repeat of the collapse in Zone 4, Hak-dong, Gwangju,” which bans supervisors of demolition work from leaving the site and imposes stronger punishment when companies fail to remove the building according to the approved plan. They passed the bill this day.

The Gwangju regional headquarters of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions released a statement and said, “As we witnessed in the Hak-dong disaster, Hyundai Development Company, with the heaviest and biggest responsibility for the scene, weaseled out and only the chief of the subcontractor was arrested.” They further argued, “Immediately revise the Act on the Corporate Punishment for Major Accidents to enact a proper bill that allows chief executives of contractors to be held responsible and be punished when accidents occur.”

The police announced that they would immediately launch an investigation shortly after the accident. The Gwangju Metropolitan Police assigned the latest case to the Major Crime Investigation Division and began investigating the cause of the accident and any failures in abiding safety measures. The police plan to conduct a joint forensic investigation and question relevant parties to analyze the cause of the accident as soon as rescue operations are concluded.

Hyundai Development Company announced, “We are checking to see if there are any additional injuries to personnel at the site of the accident,” and said, “We will know the cause of the collapse after we conduct a thorough examination.”

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