South Korea hospice fire kills 21

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Media captionThe BBC's Lucy Williamson said people on the ground floor managed to escape

At least 20 patients and a nurse have been killed in a fire at a hospice in Janseong county, South Korea.

Six others are in critical condition after the fire at Hyosarang Hospital, about 300km south of Seoul.

Most of those who died are thought to have been in their 70s and 80s, and confined to their beds.

Officials said most of the people who died suffocated because of toxic fumes. The fire was put out within half an hour.

Police said they had detained an 81-year-old patient suffering from dementia after security video footage showed him entering an area where the fire began, reports said.

The fire broke out shortly after midnight at a three-storey annex.

Agencies report that many patients on an upper floor of the building were unable to evacuate as their rooms were filled with smoke from the fire.

The nurse who died had been trying to douse the flames with a fire extinguisher, according to Agence-France Presse.

Police said the building had recently undergone safety checks, reported Yonhap news agency.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Rescue workers moved quickly to treat victims of the fire
Image copyright AP
Image caption Firefighters searched the hospital for survivors after the fire was put out
Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Officials kneeled and bowed in apology outside the hospice hours after the incident

A director of the hospice, Lee Hyung-seok, apologised and told reporters: "I've committed a grave sin... There is no excuse when valuable lives were sacrificed."

The incident comes at a time of mourning for South Korea after more than 300 people died in a ferry sinking last month.

South Korean President Park Geun-hye has formally apologised to the nation for the ferry disaster, promising to improve safety standards.

The prime minister at the time, Chung Hong-won, resigned over the government's handling of the disaster.

The hospital incident also comes a day after seven people were killed and 20 others injured in a fire at a bus terminal in Goyang city.

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