- Ryongchon disaster
Infobox News event
April 22, 2004
time= 1300 (0400
casualties1=3000+ dead or injured (estimated)
The Ryongchŏn disaster was a
train disasterthat occurred in the town of Ryongchŏn, North Koreanear the border with Chinaon April 22, 2004.
The disaster occurred when a flammable cargo exploded at the
railway stationat about 13:00 local time (04:00 GMT). The news was broken by South Korean media outlets, which reported that up to 3,000 people had been killed or injured in the blast and subsequent fires. The North Korean government declared a state of emergencyin the region, but little information about the accident has been made public by the notoriously secretive government. Shortly after the accident, the North Korean government cut telephone lines to the rest of the world (an action correspondents attributed either to a desire to inhibit foreign reporting or to prevent their own population from learning unfavourable news about the accident).
Effects of the disaster
Red Crosswas allowed into the area, in an unusual concession from the North Korean authorities, becoming the only outside agency to see the disaster area. According to the agency, 54 people were killed and 1,249 were injured in the disaster. A wide area was reported to have been affected, with some airborne debris reportedly falling across the border in China. (Satellite pictures aired by the ITN purported to show widespread damage in the town, but these were later retracted—they actually show Baghdadfrom an earlier date, and the strong black-white contrast was mis-interpreted [http://www.globalsecurity.org/eye/imint-note-010.htm] .) The Red Cross reported that 1,850 houses had been flattened and another 6,350 had been damaged or partially destroyed. A school, the railway station, and several apartment blocks were also said to have been razed to the ground.
April 23, the United Nationsreceived an appeal for international aid from North Korea's government. The next day, a few journalists were allowed into the country to report on the disaster.
How and why the accident happened
The cause and nature of the accident have been the subject of considerable confusion, with several different accounts being reported.
How the disaster happened
There are several different accounts of what occurred:
* It was initially reported that the explosion was the result of a collision between two trains carrying
gasoline(petrol) and liquified petroleum gas, possibly donated by China to alleviate the ongoing North Korean fuel shortage.
* Diplomats and aid workers in North Korea later suggested that the explosion took place when explosive materials (possibly
dynamiteor some form of gunpowder) were being shunted in rail cars, possibly being triggered by a collision with a live electric power cable. This is corroborated by reports by North Korean officials to Russia's Itar-Tassnews agency, and by government sources to Japan's Kyodonews service. The material was said to be intended for use in canalconstruction.
* The official Chinese news agency Xinhua reported that there had been a leak of
ammonium nitrate, a substance used in some explosives, as a fertilizer, and in rocket fuel.
KCNA, the state news service, apparently confirmed the Xinhua report by stating the incident was "due to the electrical contact caused by carelessness during the shunting of wagons loaded with ammonium-nitrate fertilizer and tank wagons."
Why the disaster happened
North Korean leader
Kim Jong-ilpassed through the station several hours before the explosion as he returned from a secretive meeting in China. It was believed by the North Korean officials investigating the explosion that it might have been an assassinationattempt [http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2004/06/13/wkor13.xml] , but this was treated with skepticism by South Korea. [http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/3652157.stm] A popular conjecture Fact|date=June 2007 is that one of the trains involved was carrying fuel from China, possibly a shipment that Kim had requested. If the incident did involve a train collision, it has been suggested that the cause of the accident may have been a miscommunication related to the changes in train timetables due to Kim Jong-il's itinerary. There is "a detailed report quoting military sources which appeared on May 7, 2004, in the Sankei Shimbun, a Japanese newspaper," that "about a dozen ... technicians said to be from Syria’s Centre D’Etudes et de Recherche Scientifique, a body known to be engaged in military technology," were killed in the disaster. [http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/asia/article3822538.ece]
Other observers have suggested that the poor state of North Korea's railway system may have contributed to the disaster. It accounts for about 90% of freight transportation, with a lack of fuel forcing most trucks and other vehicles off the road. The railroad, built by the Japanese forces that occupied Korea during
World War II, is reported to be in poor repair, with aged rolling stock running no faster than 40 mph or 65 km/h (in part due to poor electrical supply, again caused by the country's fuel shortage).
North Korean government response
The unusually frank admission of the accident by North Korean government might have been a sign of a thaw in the grip of the party-controlled media in the country which is notorious for being a mouthpiece and being secretiveFact|date=August 2008.
List of Korea-related topics
* [http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/3652157.stm Mystery surrounds N Korea blast (BBC)]
* [http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/3651705.stm New theory on N Korea rail blast (BBC)]
* [http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/dprk/ryongchon-imagery.htm GlobalSecurity.org report and satellite imagery]
* [http://bbs.keyhole.com/ubb/showthreaded.php?Cat=0&Number=559255&page=0&vc=&PHPSESSID=#Post559255 View GlobalSecurity.org images on Google Earth]
* [http://bbs.keyhole.com/ubb/showthreaded.php?Cat=&Board=EarthTransportation&Number=722626&Searchpage=1&Main=722626&Words=north+korea&topic=&Search=true#Post722626 Download a map of the entire North Korean Railway system to Google Earth here.]
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