|© UNICEF DPRK/2004|
|Two girls stand looking at the remains of their primary school, which was destroyed by the blast 10 minutes after class was dismissed for lunch.|
Seventy-six children died in the explosion at Ryongchon, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) on Thursday 22 April, according to a UNICEF official who was one of the first foreigners to visit the scene.
But the deathtoll could have been much higher if the blast had occurred just 10 minutes earlier, UNICEF Programme Coordinator Toufique Mujtaba said after visiting the scene as part of an official UN delegation on 24 April.
“We were told the explosion happened at 12:10 pm when most of the children from the morning shift had just left school,” Mr. Mujtaba said in an interview from Pyongyang.
The three-storey primary school, which had closed for lunch at midday, was badly damaged by the blast but luckily most of the 1,000 pupils and their teachers had already left the building, he said.
“It could have been much worse because the school was a big building and many more children would have been killed if they had been in there,” Mr Mujtaba said.
More than 160 people died in the explosion caused by a train hitting a power line and 1,300 were injured, of which 370 were hospitalized. Half of those in the hospital are children struck by flying glass and debris.
Pierrette Vu Thi, UNICEF’s Representative in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, said UNICEF is extremely concerned about the trauma that many of the children in the area experienced.
“One of the things that UNICEF is trying to do is to find an alternative way to get children back to school, which will contribute to a sense of normalcy,” she said.
As well as working at getting children back to their books, UNICEF has already delivered a truckload of medical supplies to the local hospital and will be working with UN partners and NGOs to address the water and sanitation needs of the affected community, she said.
The North Korea state news agency has estimated the damage at $350 million and said more than 30 public buildings and homes for 8,000 families were destroyed.
UNICEF Programme Coordinator Toufique Mujtaba gives eyewitness account of the scene of the explosion.
Audio Clip ([mp3]; right click to download)
UNICEF Representative Pierrette Vu Thi on UNICEF's response to the explosion at Ryongchon.
Audio clip ([mp3]; right click to download)