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29 die, 29 injured in South Korean building fire

Jecheon fire death toll rises to 29

Local news channel YTN said President Moon Jae-in voiced deep sorrow for so many deaths while Prime Minister Lee Nak-yeon vowed to expedite rescue efforts to try to minimise the number of dead and injured.

A Jecheon fire department official - who wished to remain anonymous - said most of the victims were trapped in public baths on the second and third floors. Twenty victims were found at a public sauna and others elsewhere in the building that houses a fitness centre, public bath and restaurants, the National Fire Agency said.

The death toll may rise further as firefighters continue to search the building, the spokesman said.

Dramatic photos show people being forced to jump from the upper levels of the eight-storey fitness complex in Jecheon to escape the raging inferno.

Experts compared the blaze to the Grenfell Tower fire and said cheap, flammable material on the outside of the building allowed the flames to spread rapidly up the building.

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The fire started in a vehicle parked on the first floor and rapidly spread, one official told Reuters. Thirteen bodies were unrecognisable.

Organisers for the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics said the Olympic torch relay had been scheduled to pass through Jecheon on Friday, but the route has been revised because of the tragedy.

Some were seen jumping from the building onto air mattresses laid out on the ground as dozens of fire trucks and more than 100 firefighters rushed to the scene. "We chose to cancel the event to mourn the victims", an official at the organising committee told the Yonhap news agency.

Jecheon is southeast of the capital Seoul and is a popular with visitors to its mountains and lakes.

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