According to North Korean news sources, the May 15,2014 collapse of the 23-floor apartment complex in Pyongyang resulted from slipshod construction. There was yet an official announcement on the dead or injured taken from the building. An estimated 92 households lived in the uncompleted building when the collapse took place.
It is rare for the North Korean government to disperse bad news in the Hermit Kingdom. The last time the media did so was on April 2012 when a saddened news anchorwoman read a statement about a failed satellite launching.
The state media emphasized its pronounced regret for the poorly constructed building. Blame was placed upon Minister of People’s Security Choe Pu-Il. State media said Choe’s crime against the North Korean people could never be pardoned. An intensive campaign to rescue anyone in the rubble was launched. The operation concluded two days later. There was no word if anyone living or dead in the wreckage was recovered.
Kim Jong-un, the supreme leader of North Korea, regretted what happened. Upon hearing word of the accident, he ordered leading party officials as well as members of the state and army to rush to the scene. All other government and military affairs were to be put aside to focus on a rescue effort. On the day of the accident, the supreme leader stayed up all night feeling pain over what happened.
The government’s admission of a building collapse is a way to head off its citizens from gossiping about the incident. The accident points out the use of North Korean soldiers used to complete construction projects at top speed. Since coming to power after the death of his father, Kim’s government has released newsreels and photos demonstrating the North Korean construction prowess in projects such as parks, roads, power stations, and apartment buildings.
In his New Year’s address, Kim called on service personnel along with citizens to make a more concerted effort in transforming Pyongyang into a more grandiose city. Using soldiers as construction workers has made that building program possible.
Adam Cathcart, a lecturer at the University of Leeds and the founder of the Sin-NK blog, said Kim has associated himself with the North Korean building boom. After the collapse of the 23-story apartment complex in Pyongyang, the North Korean dictator now needs to distance himself from being linked to the slipshod construction. His alternative is to be associated with the accident and be seen as weak.
Defectors from North Korea have said major industrial disaster in mines and other labor sites occur all the time outside the capital. An accident like the one reported in Pyongyang is rare. What scarce resources the government has goes into making the capital a showcase city. Only top members of the North Korean communist party and citizens deemed loyal to the state are allowed to live in Pyongyang.
Construction projects in the capital are staged events from start to finish. North Korean media show the citizens celebrating groundbreaking ceremonies whenever a construction project begins. During the construction, the media films happy citizens bringing food to workers or playing music for the construction crews. Upon the completion of the project, another media event takes place. At the opening ceremonies, euphoric citizens stand to celebrate the opening of the new building.
There have yet to be any photographs published of the accident. North Korean media showed officials bowing to a gathered crowd with emergency vehicles and staff standing close at hand. The apartment complex was not officially completed. In North Korea, it is not unusual for people to move into the lower levels before the construction is completed.
It is a privilege to live in the capital of North Korea. Should anyone in Pyongyang be pulled alive from the collapsed 23-floor apartment complex, they will give thanks to the supreme leader Kim Jong-un for their rescue; the dead will be forgotten.
By Brian T. Yates