It opened to the public on October 16, 1979:
Then, almost 15 years to the day later, this happened:
After seeing this, I was reminded that today is the 15th anniversary of the collapse of the Seongsu Bridge on October 21, 1994, which killed 32 people and injured 17 others. Many of those who died were high school students on their way to school. The bridge was torn down and rebuilt, reopening on July 3 1997. I was first made aware of this tragedy after watching a short film on TV years ago titled 기념촬영 (Memorial Photographing), a 1997 short by Marathon director Jung Yoon-Cheol (which is available on the Marathon dvd as an extra). Clips of it appear very briefly here. The film revolves around the collapse of the bridge, its reopening, and the memories of a young woman who lost her classmate in the accident.
The New York Times reported on the disaster; here is the first report, from October 21.
A section of a major bridge that crosses a river in Seoul collapsed during the morning rush hour today [.] [...] One commuter bus, one van and about 10 cars fell into the Han River when about 50 yards of the Songsutaekyo Bridge collapsed at about 7:30 A.M.
Rescue divers and boats that rushed to the river rescued about 30 people and recovered at least 42 bodies, MBC, the television network, quoted the police as saying. Some of the vehicles fell into the water, and others remained on the fallen section of the bridge.
The New York Times reported the next day that
The next day, the NYT reported that
Witnesses said there was no warning before a 157-foot central section of the steel-girdered bridge sheared cleanly from the main structure and fell into the Han River, taking with it cars, vans and a fully loaded bus. Earlier, officials had said the death toll might be as high as 48, but later in the day they said there were 32 confirmed dead.
President Kim Young Sam called an emergency Cabinet meeting and demanded a thorough investigation and heavy punishment for those responsible. A presidential spokesman said Prime Minister Lee Yung Dug had offered to resign over the collapse but Mr. Kim had turned the offer down. The resignation of the Mayor of Seoul, Lee Won Jong, was accepted, the presidential spokesman said.
The Songsu bridge, opened 15 years ago, is one of 17 across the Han normally packed with traffic during rush hour. The river bisects Seoul, and millions of office workers commute over it daily to the northern business area from residential districts in the south of the city.[...]
The Songsu was built by one of South Korea's biggest construction firms, Dong Ah Construction Industrial Company. A Dong Ah official said today that the bridge had been designed for vehicles no heavier than 36.3 tons. But the bridge, one of the city's busiest, now allowed loads of more than 47.3 tons.[...]After the Cabinet meeting the Government said it would put an emergency inspection program into effect for bridges all over South Korea. The Cabinet also decided to award $5,000 to the family of each victim.
A flotilla of small boats scoured the river for victims, but rescues were hampered by rain, swirling tides and heavy traffic. On the wreckage of the collapsed span, rescue workers lined up bodies. The battered section rested on the riverbed with the road surface visible above the water level. There were no signs of life from the badly mangled city bus or the van and two cars resting on it. One witness said he thought at least 10 more vehicles had plunged into the Han, which is 20 to 30 feet deep at that point.
Seven city officials were arrested today in connection with the collapse of a bridge in Seoul that killed 32 people, an official at the District Prosecutor's Office said. Investigators said today that they believed that the collapse occurred because rusted expansion hinges broke under heavy loads. The head of the city office responsible for maintaining the bridge and six of its employees were charged with failing to check the safety of the bridge, whose central span collapsed into the Han River Friday.
Since the collapse, numerous problems have come to light. The builder of the bridge, the Dong Ah Construction Industrial Company, appears to have cut corners on welding to finish the bridge quickly, the Korean Society of Civil Engineers said.The same article also looked at how this incident had precipitated a discussion of the dark side of Korea's incredibly fast modernization, as people began to view a number of other recent accidents - and others that took place in succession after the collapse of the bridge - in a new light.
Maintenance and safety inspections were not performed rigorously and the city failed to act on a 1993 warning from its road maintenance department about the bridge's dangerous condition. Traffic exceeded the amount for which the bridge was designed, and weight limits on trucks were frequently ignored in the rush to move goods and people around the city.
"It's the abuse of the bridge that brought the catastrophe, not the bridge itself," said Pak Byung So, a professor at Sogang University and an expert on Seoul's traffic.
After the Oct. 21 bridge accident, in which 32 people died, it is clear that the structure itself was not the only thing that has fallen. So has the faith of South Koreans in the modern society they have built in the last two decades. Once so proud of the speed at which the nation has developed, many people here are now asking whether South Korea might have tried to grow too fast, sacrificing quality for the sake of quantity.
"We have achieved tremendous, rapid development," said Lee Chul, a legislator from the opposition Democratic Party. "From the outside it looks fantastic, but on the inside the structure is so poor." Lee Haeng Won, an editorial writer for Hankook Ilbo, a major daily newspaper, called the bridge collapse "a national humiliation." The bridge was only 15 years old.
Three days later, a sightseeing boat on a lake southeast of Seoul caught fire, causing 29 deaths. In August a Korean Air Lines plane crashed on landing on Cheju Island, although everyone escaped. In October 1993, an overloaded ferry sank off the west coast, killing about 290 people. An Asiana Airlines plane crashed into a mountain outside Seoul in July 1993, killing 66 people. And in March 1993 a passenger train derailment killed 78.
People here say these diverse accidents have some common elements -- poor maintenance, sloppy operating practices and overloading.
In addition to these stories, another bridge had collapsed into the Han River in 1992, though luckily no one was injured as it was under construction. Two days later, on November 20, yet another tragedy occurred:
An overpass collapsed in Seoul today after being hit by a truck, killing at least two people and injuring three others, the state radio said. The truck, a bus and two cars were trapped under a big slab of cement after a 46-foot span of the overpass came down in eastern Seoul, the radio said. A police officer said rescue work was underway but could not confirm the number of casualties. The Korea Broadcasting System and the domestic Yonhap news agency said a bus driver and a passenger had been killed.The 'national humiliation' of the Seongsu Bridge collapse would, unfortunately, pale in comparison to the 101 killed and 202 injured six months later in the April 28, 1995 Daegu gas explosion.(Photos from here and here).
As the NYT reported,
The explosion, at a leaking gas main at a subway construction site, hurled cars, trucks and buses into the air. Steel plates being used as a temporary road surface were thrown through the air in a deadly hail, crushing and dismembering pedestrians.But wait, there's more:
"I heard a loud bang and flames rose about 50 yards into the air, taking with it steel plates," a taxi driver said.
A spokesman for a disaster squad in Taegu, South Korea's third-largest city, about 150 miles south of Seoul, said 103 people were dead and about 200 injured, many critically. State television and local news reports quoted police officials who put the death toll at 110.
Some 2,500 rescuers picked through debris in the hope of finding survivors, the scene lit eerily by huge arc lamps.
During the morning rush-hour, scores of cars were idling at a traffic signal when they were blown into the air. Witnesses said a bus taking students to nearby schools plunged into a pit excavated for the subway construction. An Education Ministry spokesman said 45 students from a high school were confirmed dead and many more were missing.[...]
Gas suppliers said they suspected an excavator punctured a pipe. State radio said the explosion was apparently caused by welding work that set off leaking gas. There was no independent confirmation of either suggestion.
It was South Korea's second fatal gas explosion in less than five months. In December, 12 people were killed by an underground gas explosion in a central district of Seoul.Photos of the monument to those killed in the Daegu explosion are here.
This horrific event was eclipsed two months later by Korea's worst peacetime disaster: the June 29, 1995 collapse of the Sampoong Department Store, which killed 502 people.
I'll save a discussion of that tragedy for another day.
Now that I think of it, I should point you in the direction of this post by Gord Sellar, which tells the story of an explosion in 1977 and it's effect on the town he lived in Jeollabuk-do:
[A]n older gentleman I knew in Iksan told me he was drinking soju with his buddies in Jeonju when it happened, and they heard the sound of the blast. From a distance of about 20 kilometers away, they heard the sound so clearly that it overpowered all the conversation in the establishment where they were drinking, as well as the TV. Boom. They didn’t know it then, but downtown Iksan had just been smashed apart, or, at least, the area immediately in front of the train station had been destroyed.