2 Kazakh brothers seeking better life in South Korea killed in fire blaze

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Family members of the Icheon warehouse fire victims cry at the joint memorial hall installed in Icheon, Gyeonggi Province. Sunday, 03 May 2020. Yonhap

Enamul Hafiz Latifee compiles,

Two Kazakh workers killed in the warehouse fire in Icheon, Gyeonggi Province were brothers who moved to Korea with their families in pursuit of a better life.

The two were ethnic Koreans from former Soviet states.

“One was a father of three children,” said Kim Young-sook who leads a group dedicated to helping ethnic Koreans from the former Soviet Union in Ansan, Gyeonggi Province. “I met the guy with three children in February. He dropped by because he needed help visiting a medical clinic.”

 

According to Kim, they were living in Ansan and traveled across the country for work.

“Their relatives in Kazakhstan want to fly to Korea for their funerals, but can’t because of financial difficulties. They are not in a good situation and need help. We’re trying to help them with whatever we can.” Almost 18,000 ethnic Koreans from former Soviet states are currently living in Ansan.

 

The brothers were among 38 who lost their lives in the fire that broke out on 29 April. One was a Chinese national. In addition to the 38 fatalities, 10 were injured.

Investigations are still underway to identify the exact cause of the fire, but it is reported to have started in a basement where workers were doing insulation work using urethane foam next to other employees installing a freight elevator. Urethane foam emits a combustible oily mist, and the elevator installation involved welding.

Survivors said they heard several explosions and noticed a strong-smelling “toxic smoke.”

The investigators continued their inspections of the fire site on Tuesday. The National Forensic Service completed autopsies on 18 victims to find the exact cause of death but haven’t released the results to the public. The police conducted an additional investigation into six companies, including Han Express which ordered the construction and Keonwoo which carried out the construction.

 

The fire is the latest accident to shed light on lax safety measures at construction sites. The law requires construction companies to appoint supervisors to ensure workers follow safety guidelines, such as removing any flammable materials and ventilating the space before welding work begins.

“The disaster could have been prevented if the site had had at least one supervisor. I want the government to really learn from this and to make sure the safety measures are implemented in the field,” one bereaved family member said during a press conference at the fire site, Monday, 04 May 2020.

 

Reportedly, Keonwoo received warnings from the Korea Occupational Safety and Health Agency about the guideline violations multiple times but ignored them.

The families also demanded Han Express be held accountable for the accident. Until recently, companies hiring subcontractors for construction jobs were not legally responsible for accidents that took place on-site.

The government responded to the accident, vowing to undertake a special round of safety inspections at the Ansan construction site. But critics said the measures, as usual, came too late.

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