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World - AP Asia
S. Korea Subway Fire Death Toll Hits 182
1 hour, 5 minutes ago

By SANG-HUN CHOE, Associated Press Writer

SEOUL, South Korea - The death toll from last week's subway fire rose to 182 on Wednesday after forensic experts found 49 more sets of remains in the debris of the two scorched trains, officials said.

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South Korean authorities investigating the Feb. 18 blaze formally arrested the alleged arsonist and six subway officials, and fired the head of the subway corporation on Tuesday.

Forensic experts combing through the ashen debris have put together 49 more sets of remains, bringing the total death toll to 182, said Choi Chong-hoon, an official at the Central Disaster Center.

Most of the remains were so heavily burned and disintegrated, making immediate identification impossible, Choi said.

Until now, the center had estimated a death toll of 133.

Officials said that more than 300 people are still missing.

They said the death toll could rise further, but they believe the number of missing people was greatly inflated by double reporting and confusion over the identities of the dead.

Kim Dae-han, 56, a mentally ill man who allegedly started the fire by igniting a carton filled with gasoline, faces a charge of manslaughter and could be executed if found guilty.

Six subway officials face charges of negligent manslaughter, which carries a maximum of five years in prison.

Late Tuesday, a court issued warrants to make their arrests formal.

Last week's blaze gutted two subway trains in Daegu, South Korea (news - web sites)'s third-largest city. The fire quickly engulfed a six-car train and then spread to another train that had pulled into the station a few minutes later.

Critics said the tragedy revealed problems with the nation's emergency response system. The train's seats and floor tiles were highly flammable, and the lack of adequate emergency lighting left victims groping in the dark after the lights went out.

The fire also injured 147 people.

On Tuesday, the Daegu municipal government fired Yoon Jin-tae, president of the Daegu Subway Corporation, holding him responsible for the corporation's inadequate reaction to the fire.

The actions of train operators who allowed the second train to arrive are being investigated, and police said they will also look into suspicions that the subway corporation tried to cover up or destroy evidence of a possibly bungled response.

Most of the victims were passengers on the second train whose conductor allegedly fled without opening the doors, leaving victims trapped in the flames. Police said doors were open on only two of that train's six cars.

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