South Korean subway fire death toll rises to 189

SEOUL, South Korea -- South Korean authorities raised the death toll from last week's subway fire to 189 on Wednesday after forensic experts found 56 more sets of remains in the debris of the two scorched trains.

Most of the newly discovered bodies were so heavily burned and disintegrated as to make immediate identification impossible, said Choi Chong-hoon, an official at the Central Disaster Center. He put the new death toll at 189, up from a previous estimate of 133.

Relatives of the victims and those missing were infuriated after forensic experts found four pieces of scorched human remains in bags of garbage collected from the subway station.

All-news cable channel YTN showed a blackened human hand found in a garbage bag.

"How can things like this happen?" the victims' families said in a statement. "This shows that authorities hurried to clean up the subway station, paying little attention to our agony."

They demanded that Daegu mayor Cho Hae-nyong resign to take responsibility for the lapse.

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.

The seven people have been under police custody pending their interrogation. Late Tuesday, a court issued warrants to make their arrests formal.

Last week's blaze gutted two subway trains in Daegu, South Korea'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.