South Korea: Explosion sparks lithium battery factory fire, killing 22 people

A powerful explosion set on fire a lithium battery factory in South Korea, killing 22 workers, officials say.

The majority of those killed in the fire at the factory in Hwaseong city, just south of Seoul, on Monday, were Chinese nationals.

Two South Koreans and a Laotian were also among the dead, while the nationality of the remaining victim is yet to be confirmed, local fire official Kim Jin-young said.

Eight people were also injured in the blaze.

Rescue workers at the factory - run by battery manufacturer Aricell - retrieved the bodies after combing through the site, Mr Kim said.

The blast comes amid mounting concerns over the safety of some lithium batteries, which have been known to burst into flames if used incorrectly.

Mr Kim said a witness told authorities the fire began after batteries exploded as workers were examining and packaging them, but the exact cause would be investigated.

South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol's office said he is monitoring the situation while interior minister Lee Sang-min called on local authorities to take steps to prevent any hazardous chemicals from contaminating the surroundings.

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The president had earlier ordered officials to mobilise all available personnel and equipment to find survivors.

Prime Minister Han Duck-soo and Mr Lee visited the site on Monday.

Mr Han asked officials to provide government assistance for funeral services and support programs for victims' relatives.

Mr Kim said officials would be looking into whether fire extinguishing systems were working.

The fire official said a total of 102 people were working at the factory before the incident happened.

Established in 2020, Aricell makes lithium primary batteries for sensors and radio communication devices.

It has 48 employees, according to its latest regulatory filing and its Linkedin profile.

UK fire services have launched a series of campaigns to encourage people to use lithium batteries in e-bikes and scooters correctly, after a rise in the number of fires linked to the rechargeable devices.