In this Saturday, May 17, 2014 photo, families of victims of an accident at an apartment construction site in Pyongyang, North Korea grieve during a gathering in the capital where senior officials apologized and took responsibility.
In a rare public acceptance of responsibility, the North Korean government announced Sunday that an apartment building under construction in its capital of Pyongyang collapsed, potentially killing hundreds of people. The collapse occurred last week, and rescue operations were suspended Saturday, according to state news agency Korean Central News Agency.
It reported that the building collapsed in the Pyongchon district of Pyongyang, blaming “sloppy building” and “irresponsible supervision and control.” State media said there were “human casualties” but did not confirm the number.
The North Korean government expressed its "profound consolation" for the accident, while senior officials met with bereaved families and apologized.
North Korea's leader, Kim Jong-un, "sat up all night, feeling painful after being told about the accident," and "instructed leading officials of the party, state and the army to rush to the scene, putting aside all other affairs, and command the rescue operation to recover from the damage as early as possible," according to state media.
It is not unusual for many North Korean families to move into buildings that are still under construction. Pyongyang has been experiencing a construction boom under Kim's rule, employing soldiers as builders, who often work under tight deadlines, according to theWashington Post; this can result in shoddy construction.
South Korea's largest news agency, Yonhap, reported that a photograph in North Korea's state-run newspaper, Rodong Sinmun, showed a high-ranking government official bowing to the public in a rare apology.
The officials who expressed their regret over the accident included Choe Pu-il, Minister of People's Security, Sonu Hyong-chol, general officer of the Korean People's Internal Security Forces and Cha Hui-rim, chairman of the Pyongyang City People's Committee, according to Yonhap.
Analysts said North Korea's disclosure of the accident may be intended to draw a contrast to South Korea's response to the deadly ferry accident in April that killed hundreds of people, many of them students. The North Korean government has harshly criticized the South's handling of the accident, at times mocking the government of President Park Geun-hye for failing to respond to the disaster quickly and effectively.