Why Did the Apartment in Hyesan Collapse?

Daily NK
Han Young Jin
8/1/2007

Regarding the Hyesan, Yangkang province “apartment collapse incident (Reported Daily NK 7/23),” an opinion has been brought forward that the direct cause is the change in the weight load that followed from a drastic removal of the interior wall.

An internal North Korean news source quotes a witness to the incident who states, “Starting on the morning of the 19th, two construction workers were carrying on with a project to remove the wall panel of a house. When the wall panel was about to be dismantled, the concrete floor from the floor above spilled out and one side of the seven-story apartment crumbled down.”

Among the residents who had lived in the collapsed apartment, it was a trend to remodel the interior to enlarge the drawing room in a modern Chinese style. This apartment was typically a place where the relatively affluent class such as customs or trade workers resided.

Without passing building safety inspections, households would remove the wall panel that divided the small room and the kitchen to create a drawing room where they could drink tea with guests.

North Korean apartments are distributed to residents in the form of a rental apartment and if apartment residents want to change the structure, they must report this to the City Administrative Bureau under the People’s Committee that acts as the Superintendence Office for residents. However, the City Administrative Bureau has been accepting bribes and looking the other way which makes the regulations only valid in theory.

The news source also claimed, “It seems the building couldn’t withstand it anymore and collapsed. Due to this incident, 26 people have died and there are dozens more in casualties.”

In addition, they also claimed, “the Public Security Forces evacuated the residents on the side of the building without damages and demolished the entire apartment. It was a place that was clearly visible even in China and as reconstruction was difficult, it seems they demolished it all.”

Defector Kim Ju Chan [pseudonym] who had spoken to his family who lives in Hyesan said, “There has been a rumor to be alert as the apartment collapse incident is a conspiracy of the South Korean National Intelligence Service. However, hardly anyone believes this and says that this couldn’t be the result of a NIS conspiracy but from the construction of the wall panels.”

As this incident occurred during the Local Assembly representative elections, the North Korean authorities have been spreading such rumors like “South Korean NIS invasion” to prevent any changes in public sentiment.

Kim said, “In the process of handling the building debris, they also withdrew bundles of money or anything that looked valuable from private households. As the majority of the apartment residents are powerful people, it seems as there will be no other trouble.”

20 Die in Collapse of 7 Story Apartment Building
Daily NK

Kim Young Jin

On July 23, sources inside North Korea reported that a 7 story apartment building collapsed in Hyesan-dong, Hyesan, Yangkang province, killing and wounding dozens. The building stood next to the Hyesan police station and crumbled with a massive “bang,” on July 19th. Frightened residents quickly gathered and began rescue operations with the help of soldiers and social security agents.

The building was home to 42 families, six on each floor. 20 bodies were found beneath the rubble and many wounded were sent to hospitals, some arriving days later. Casualties mounted due to the lack of rescue equipment. Because the incident occurred during working hours, most of the victims were reportedly old and feeble.

The source quoted a social safety agent from the police stand who, along with other authorities, believed the building had structural deficiencies from the beginning. Others said the building was only 15 years old and represented the latest in North Korean building styles.

He added that the rescue was hampered for at least 2 days while larger machinery was brought in. While waiting, the locals were confined to the use of shovels and hoes.

Mr. Lee, a defector from Hyesan, said in a telephone conversation with the Daily NK that there are two apartment complexes beside the Hyesan police station. One is the collapsed building which was built 15 years ago and the other is 8 stories. The complexes primarily housed party members, factory management staff, and trade company employees.

An affiliate of the National Intelligence Service in South Korea mentioned to the Daily NK that “we are investigating the incident after receiving intelligence from several sources.”

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