The 10th Anniversary of the Daegu Subway Fire

Posted on : 2013-02-19 15:18 KST Modified on : 2019-10-19 20:29 KST
Ten years after disaster, the bereaved still grieve and questions remain over subway safety

By Kim Il-woo, Daegu correspondent

Feb. 18, 2013 marks the 10th anniversary of the Daegu subway fire incident. The wounds caused by the incident have not yet healed. On Feb. 18, 2003, Kim Dae-han, 56, who was suffering from mental illness, set fire to a train in Daegu’s Jungangno station. The biggest subway disaster in Korean history left 193 people dead and 151 with injuries.

Although 10 years have passed, exposure to poisonous gas has caused 70 of the injured to experience post-traumatic stress disorder, respiratory ailments and throat infections. The committee for family members of the injured has suspected that these people are still experiencing the effects of the incident. Temporarily buried at Daegu Cemetery Park are six bodies that still haven’t been identified by relatives. According to the law, bodies that go unclaimed by relatives for ten years must be buried or cremated.

Out of the 71 billion won (US$65.8 million) donated by the people, 52.5 billion won (US$48.6 million) was used for compensation and medical expenses for the victims and their families. Daegu city government is planning to use the remaining 9.6 billion won (US$89 million), to found ‘2.18 Safety Culture Foundation’ (tentative name) to help the victims and families.

The foundation has not yet started operating. The reason behind the delay is the differing views on how to manage the foundation between Daegu city government and the victims’ organizations, and also among the different victims’ organizations. As a result, two different memorials commemorating the tenth anniversary were held in two different locations.

The mayor of Daegu has not attended any of the past memorial services. The Daegu branch of People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy (PSPD) has demanded, “Kim Bum-il, mayor of Daegu, should attend the 10th anniversary memorial as a citizen, and should resolve all the old problem. He should work for integration by drawing out social consensus for the establishment of the 2.18 Culture Safety Foundation”.

In the aftermath of the Daegu subway disaster, many safety measures were put in place including all car interiors being made fire resistant. Wireless communication networks were installed to allow real-time communication among engineers, station staff and traffic controllers. Fire safety plans and field safety manuals were also developed. All stations were equipped with exit signs and smoke ventilation systems. Daegu Safety Theme Park opened on December 2008 to educate Daegu resident about safety. The park has had more than 530,000 visitors.

Due to budget cuts, management of subway stations has been privatized, while unmanned management systems have increased which is creating concerns over subway safety. The subway stations had been managed by the Daegu Metropolitan Transit Corporation (DTRO), but after the construction of the second line in 2005, some station management was taken over by private corporations. Currently, of the 59 stations on the two lines, 11 are being operated by private corporations.

Costing 1.45 trillion won (US$1.34 billion), the third subway line in Daegu which is scheduled to begin operating next year, is expected to run unmanned subway trains. From the north district to Suseong District, there is expected to be 30 stations in a 24 km stretch. The DTRO plans to operate trains and station using minimal manpower.

Lee Duk-sang, head of Daegu subway labor union, said “The facilities are safer now compared to ten years ago, but the trains still only have one locomotive engineer. In order to properly prevent disasters when facilities fall out of order, more measures, including manpower, should be provided”.


Translated by Kim Kyung-min, Hankyoreh English intern


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