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North Korea reports 'serious accident' after Pyongyang building collapses

By Jethro Mullen, CNN
May 19, 2014 -- Updated 0042 GMT (0842 HKT)
A North Korean official apologizes on Saturday, May 17, in front of residents and families of victims of an accident at an apartment construction site in Pyongyang, North Korea. A North Korean official apologizes on Saturday, May 17, in front of residents and families of victims of an accident at an apartment construction site in Pyongyang, North Korea.
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North Korea apologizes for building collapse
North Korea apologizes for building collapse
North Korea apologizes for building collapse
North Korea apologizes for building collapse
North Korea apologizes for building collapse
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Dozens of families may have been in the building, a South Korean official says
  • North Korea state media report "casualties" but don't provide any specific numbers
  • The accident took place at an apartment building under construction in Pyongyang
  • KCNA: Leader Kim Jong Un "sat up all night, feeling painful" after hearing the news

(CNN) -- An apartment building in the North Korean capital collapsed in what state media described as a "serious accident" that caused an unspecified number of casualties.

The unusual, apologetic report Sunday from the North's state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said the collapse took place Tuesday at the construction site of an apartment building in Phyongchon, a central district of Pyongyang.

"The accident claimed casualties," the agency reported without providing details on the number of people killed and injured. Rescue efforts were abandoned on Saturday, the agency said.

A South Korean government official said the building had 23 floors, estimating that as many as 92 families might have been living inside. It's common for people to move into North Korean buildings before construction is completed, the official said.

A stern looking North Korean guard by the Chinese border customs office. This image was deleted by North Korean officials. A stern looking North Korean guard by the Chinese border customs office. This image was deleted by North Korean officials.
Photos North Korea didn't want you to see
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Kenny Zhu visited North Korea from China and captured North Korea using his Google Glass. He was allowed to wear the wearable camera as long as "everything reflects the positive side of DPRK." Kenny Zhu visited North Korea from China and captured North Korea using his Google Glass. He was allowed to wear the wearable camera as long as "everything reflects the positive side of DPRK."
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A picture released by the North Korean Central News Agency shows North Korean leader Kim Jong Un appearing without his cane at an event with military commanders in Pyongyang on Tuesday, November 4. Kim, who recently disappeared from public view for about six weeks, had a cyst removed from his right ankle, a lawmaker told CNN. A picture released by the North Korean Central News Agency shows North Korean leader Kim Jong Un appearing without his cane at an event with military commanders in Pyongyang on Tuesday, November 4. Kim, who recently disappeared from public view for about six weeks, had a cyst removed from his right ankle, a lawmaker told CNN.
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
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Photos: Kim Jong Un\'s military Photos: Kim Jong Un's military

The South Korean government closely monitors activities in North Korea.

The construction of the building "was not done properly and officials supervised and controlled it in an irresponsible manner," KCNA reported. Pyongyang residents were "greatly shocked" it said.

Kim Jong Un upset

The secretive North Korean regime rarely calls attention to problems within its borders.

The publication of the state media report, which contained a series of apologies from senior public officials, suggests it was a severe calamity.

Kim Jong Un, the country's leader, "sat up all night, feeling painful after being told about the accident" and put aside "all other affairs," KCNA reported, citing Kim Su Gil, the chief secretary of the Pyongyang City Committee of the ruling Workers' Party of Korea.

Minister of People's Security Choe Pu Il described the accident as "unimaginable," according to the news agency.

Kim Su Gil said authorities are taking steps to help the families of the victims and provide them with new housing, supporting the conclusion that people were living in the building while it was still under construction.

Among the disasters that North Korea has taken the rare step of acknowledging publicly are floods in 2012 that killed scores of people and an explosion at a train station in 2004 that caused hundreds of casualties.

CNN's KJ Kwon contributed to this report.

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