The four-storied Sampoong Department Store was built in a high-class area of Seoul, and an estimated 40,000 people shopped in the department store every day. The daily income for the owner, Mr. Joon, must have been enormous and was probably the reason why he did not react to the warnings he had been given.
During construction Mr. Joon decided to add an extra floor with a swimming pool. The engineering firm complained that the new design was unsafe and Mr. Joon replied by giving them the pink slip. Instead he hired another engineering firm that was part of his own corporation. The building was completed according to his wishes, without any reinforcement of the fifth floor. It was discovered after the accident that inferior concrete had been used by the engineering company as well as highly insufficient structural support.
At that time Korea was addressing some severe problems with corruption, but unfortunately this process only dealt with the high ranking officials and therefore the construction of the department store was completed with the approval of corrupt junior officials. These were the officials who could have stopped the project.
Despite its numerous structural problems, which were all known to Mr. Joon, the department store stood for six years. Two days before the collapse, a worker noted a gas leak and recommended that the store be closed for repair. His request was denied. At the day of the collapse, the ceiling on the fifth floor started crumbling. The only response to this was an order from Mr. Joon to move the expensive merchandise from the fifth to the ground floor. In spite of a crumbling ceiling and a gas pipe leaking, Mr. Joon refused to evacuate the building.
At approximately 6 p.m. the ceiling collapsed causing all five floors to cave in, crushing everything and everyone in the store. Fires broke out everywhere and this combined with the remains of the building, ready to collapse, made the rescue work very difficult and dangerous. Survivors were found in the ruins until 16 days after the accident. 501 people had died and 900 people had been injured.
Mr. Joon was convicted seven and a half years in prison and twelve of the officials, as well as some engineers, were sentenced to prison.
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