16 killed in factory fire in South Korea  Rescue operations are underway

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — A fire caused by exploding lithium batteries at a manufacturing plant near South Korea’s capital on Monday killed 22 mostly Chinese migrant workers and injured eight others, officials said.

Around 10:30 a.m., the fire broke out on the second floor of the factory in the city of Hwaseong, south of Seoul, when workers were testing and packaging batteries when the batteries exploded, fire officials said, citing a witness. An investigation will be conducted into the cause of the fire, they said.

The dead included 18 Chinese, two South Koreans and one Laotian, local fire official Kim Jin-young told a televised conference. He said the citizenship of one of the dead could not be immediately verified.

Over the past few decades, many people from China, including ethnic Koreans, have migrated to South Korea in search of work. Like other foreign immigrants from Southeast Asian countries, they often end up in factories or in physically demanding and low-paying jobs shunned by more affluent South Koreans.

Kim has not been contacted by any factory workers and rescuers continue to search the area. He said the condition of two of the eight injured was critical.

A fire broke out in a factory building owned by Aricel. Kim said the victims may have been unable to escape through the stairs on the ground. He said the authorities would investigate whether there were fire extinguishers at the place and whether they worked.

A total of 102 people were employed at the factory before the fire, Kim said.

Prime Minister Han Tak-soo, the country’s no. 2 official and Interior and Defense Minister Lee Chang-min visited the site later on Monday. According to Hahn’s office, he asked officials to provide government assistance for funerals and support programs for victims’ relatives.

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