Fire at lithium battery factory kills 22 in South Korea

Most of the dead are believed to be Chinese immigrant workers.

Exploding lithium batteries are believed to be the cause of a fire that swept through a factory in South Korea that killed 22 people, many of them migrant workers from China.

The fire began after batteries exploded while workers were examining and packaging them on the second floor of the factory in Hwaseong, just south of Seoul, at around 10:30 am, fire officials said.

The dead included 18 Chinese, two South Koreans and one Laotian, local fire official Kim Jin-young said.

22 people died and eight were injured in the fire. / Credit: AP

He said the nationality of one of the dead couldn’t be immediately verified, while another person was still unaccounted for.

Eight people were also injured, with two in a serious condition.

In the past few decades, many people from China, including ethnic Koreans, have migrated to South Korea to seek jobs.

Like other foreign migrants from Southeast Asian nations, they often end up in factories or in physically demanding and low-paying jobs shunned by more affluent South Koreans.

The fire started at one of the factory buildings owned by a company named Aricell.

There was a massive emergency service presence at the site. / Credit: AP

Kim said that authorities will investigate whether there were fire extinguishing systems at the site and if they worked.

Kim said a total of 102 people were working at the factory when the fire broke out.

Prime minister Han Duck-soo and interior and safety minister Lee Sang-min visited the site later on Monday.

Han asked officials to provide government assistance for funeral services and support programmes for victims’ relatives, according to Han’s office.

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