(WRAPUP) 10 killed, more than 100 injured in building collapse in Gyeongju

GYEONGJU/BUSAN, Feb. 18 (Yonhap) -- At least 10 people were killed and more than 100 others were injured after a gymnasium in a southern resort town collapsed late Monday, according to local police officials.

Police said 565 first-year students from Busan University of Foreign Studies were having a welcoming party for freshmen in the building in Gyeongju, 370 kilometers south of Seoul, when it collapsed at around 9:11 p.m.

As of 3 a.m. Tuesday, police said nine students and one party organizer had died and about 100 others had been transfered to hospitals in the nearby city of Ulsan, with 17 of them under treatment for serious injuries. Police also said three students and 11 party organizers remained unaccounted for.

They feared that the toll could rise through the wee hours of Tuesday as the rescue work progresses, with about 400 fire and police officials and troops from nearby Marine Corps and Army units on the scene.

Local fire officials said they had difficulty reaching the scene because the resort is in the mountains, some 500 meters above sea level, and it was snowing on Monday night. The narrow and slippery road leading to the gym forced the majority of the rescue workers to walk several hundred meters to the scene, officials added.

Authorities speculated that heavy snow atop the roof could have caused the collapse, following recent massive snowfalls across the country, but they are investigating to find the exact cause. Gyeongju and the surrounding regions had received about 50 centimeters of snow over the past week, according to officials.

Police in Gyeongju said once the rescue work is finished, they will launch a thorough investigation into the cause behind the fatal incident.

They said they will ask officials at the resort why they hadn't removed snow from the building's roof before the students' function. Police will also try to find out if the building was an unauthorized structure that had failed to meet safety standards.

Officials at Busan University of Foreign Studies said the school has dispatched about 20 officials to Gyeongju and to Ulsan for assistance. They added that the surviving students will stay in the resort overnight and return to the campus early Tuesday.

Chung Hae-lin, president of the university, issued an apology, saying the school will assume all responsibilities for the affected students.

The school's officials acknowledged that the freshman party was held off campus because of disagreements between the school administration and the student council.

According to officials, the school offered to hold the one-day freshman orientation event on its new campus on Feb. 28, but the student council asked to hold it at an outside location.

The school granted the request but declined to provide financial support, officials said. The student council asked participating freshmen and other senior students to pay 60,000 won (US$56.60) each, according to one student who attended the party.

One professor said the student council, strapped for cash, might have been forced to host the event at an inexpensive location.

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