Emergency personnel carry the body of a person killed in a deadly fire at a lithium battery factory in Hwaseong on June 24, 2024. Image Credit: Reuters

Seoul: Eighteen Chinese nationals were among the 22 people killed in a massive blaze at a South Korean lithium battery factory, the fire department said Monday, adding one more person was missing.

“Twenty foreigners are among the dead, including 18 Chinese, one from Laos, and one unknown nationality,” firefighter Kim Jin-young told media, adding that the bodies were badly burned and full identification of the victims would take time.

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The fire, which has largely been extinguished, occurred at around 10:30 a.m. (0130 GMT) at a factory run by battery manufacturer Aricell in Hwaseong, south of the capital Seoul.

The blaze began after a series of battery cells exploded inside a warehouse with some 35,000 units, said Kim Jin-young, a local fire official. What had triggered the explosion remains unclear, he added.

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A Reuters witness saw firefighters moving up to six bodies out of the factory, which his located in an industrial area.

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.

The company is not listed on South Korea’s stock market but is majority owned by S-Connect, according to Aricell regulatory filing. S-Connect is registered on the junior Kosdaq index and its shares closed down 22.5%.

Live TV footage showed firefighters spraying the damaged steel and concrete building. Parts of the upper level had collapsed, and large chunks of the building looked like they had been blown out into the street by an explosion.