Seoul: North Korea's supreme leader Kim Jong-un "sat up all night" feeling pain after learning about the collapse of an apartment building in Pyongyang, the country's state-run media reported.
The accident stemmed from "slipshod" construction and left an unspecified number of casualties, according to the north's account. The country's state media emphasised "profound consolation" for the collapse and devoted several paragraphs to castigating Minister of People's Security Choe Pu-Il. Mr Choe's crime against the people "can never be pardoned," the north said.
London's Telegraph reported senior officials were paraded on state television on Sunday to make a rare public apology for the collapse.
Families of those killed in the building collapse. Photo: AP
The state-run KCNA reported builders had broken construction rules.
Although North Korea is heavily monitored via satellite by outside analysts, Pyongyang's admission was the first news of the disaster, which occurred on Tuesday in a central area of the capital. Some scholars say officials may have publicly divulged the accident as a way to shape gossip that would inevitably spread throughout the country, where citizens increasingly carry mobile phones.
A South Korean government official told the Yonhap news agency about 92 households might have been living in the apartment building, potentially signalling a triple-figure death toll.
A construction officer apologises after the building collapse, in this photo released by North Korea's state-run media. Photo: AFP/KCNA
The accident hints at one of the risks North Korea faces as it races to complete construction projects using "soldier-builders" mandated to work at top speed. Under Mr Kim, the north has devoted reams of propaganda to its construction prowess, highlighting its completion of pleasure parks, apartment buildings and power stations.
In his new year address, which laid out government policy, Mr Kim called on service personnel and citizens to "make concerted efforts to build up Pyongyang so that it is more grandiose".
The construction projects in Pyongyang are treated as community events. On news broadcasts, citizens are shown bringing food to workers or playing music for them.
The last time North Korea publicly admitted to such a major failure was in April 2012 after a botched satellite launch. Then, a news anchorwoman read a statement on television. In this instance, it displayed the news both on the KCNA website and in its Workers' Party paper.
North Korea has not published photos of the accident site, but its newspaper on Sunday showed an official bowing to gathered masses, with emergency vehicles parked close by.
The 23-storey apartment complex had not been completed, the South Korean official told Yonhap, but it was not unusual for people to move into apartments in North Korea while they were still under construction.
The north said an "intensive" rescue campaign was launched after the accident. That operation ended on Saturday, it said.
Mr Kim "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," the account said.