As of 3 a.m. Tuesday, police said nine students and one party organizer had died and about 100 others had been transferred to hospitals in the nearby city of Ulsan, with 17 of them under treatment for serious injuries. Police also said three students and 11 party organizers remained unaccounted for.
At least 10 youths were killed and more than 100 others were injured after a resort gymnasium in Gyeongju collapsed late on the 17th, according to the local police officials. Police said 565 students and faculty from the Busan University of Foreign Studies were having a welcoming party for this year’s freshmen at the gym when it collapsed at around 9:11 p.m. Students tried to evacuate 15 minutes before the collapse when a fissure along the ceiling was discovered, but the majority were unable to escape when the roof came crashing down in a matter of seconds.
Some 400 fire and police officials and troops from nearby Marine Corps and Army units rushed to the scene, but local fire officials said they had difficulty reaching the scene because the resort is in the mountains, some 500 meters above sea level, and it was snowing on Monday night. The narrow and slippery road leading to the gym forced the majority of the rescue workers to walk several hundred meters to the scene, officials added. Authorities speculated that heavy snow atop the roof could have caused the collapse, following recent massive snowfalls across the country. The added rain may have added more weight to the snow amounting to as much as 180 tons on the roof. Gyeongju and the surrounding regions had received about 50 centimeters of snow over the past week, according to officials.
An investigation into why the resort hadn't removed snow from the building's roof before the students' function and if the building was an unauthorized structure that had failed to meet safety standards will follow. The structure itself was built of sandwich panels which are both cost- and time-effective materials to build with, but not well-known for their safety and durability.
Officials at the Busan University of Foreign Studies said the school has dispatched about 20 officials to Gyeongju and to Ulsan for assistance. They added that the surviving students will stay in the resort overnight and return to the campus early Tuesday. Chung Hae-lin, president of the university, issued an apology, saying the school will assume all responsibilities for the affected students.
The school's officials acknowledged that the freshman party was held off campus because of disagreements between the school administration and the student council. According to officials, the school offered to hold the one-day freshman orientation event on its new campus on February 28, but the student council asked to hold it at an outside location.
Freshmen welcoming parties are held off-campus more often than not, and one of the main priorities involved is scouting a venue that is not too expensive as the students themselves have to contribute financially with little or no support from their schools. As a result, inexpensive party venues may not have the same safety measures as their more expensive counterparts.
The resort in question has yet to make a statement.