Carbon monoxide poisoning at guest house kills five

North Korean village near the border with China. Image: Daily NK file photo

Since the 1980s, coal briquettes have been considered the “grim reaper of the bedroom” by North Korean citizens due to their role in carbon monoxide poisoning-related deaths over the years.  

On November 18, a source in Ryanggang Province reported that three males staying at a guesthouse and the owners all died from carbon monoxide poisoning in Hyesan city five days ago.

“The guesthouse owner’s neighbors discovered the victims the next morning and reported it to the police. As the weather is getting colder, gas poisoning accidents are becoming more and more common,” he said.

“The three male guests were workers who had just finished their mobilization period at the Samjiyon construction project and had decided to spend the night in Hyesan on their way back home. It is a tragedy for these workers to have met such an unfortunate turn of events right after finishing.”

Accidents continue to occur as residents switch from using firewood in their homes to coal briquettes.

In certain areas of North Korea, such as North Pyongan Province, Sinuiju, the creation of a “Gas Squad” has been mandated, according to a source in the region. “There is one gas squad per People’s unit that will go door to door checking houses for carbon monoxide poisoning once at 12-2am and then again at 5-6am,” she said, adding that after finishing their check, the squad reports to the squad chief “who then must receive a stamp of confirmation on the report from the district office.”     

According to a separate source in Ryanggang Province, gas squads have not yet been formed in Hyesan city. The frequency of carbon monoxide accidents can be attributed to gas leaking into the house due to problems inherent with older housing or defects in the coal briquette burners.

As people flock to Hyesan city to participate in nearby construction projects, the number of guesthouses in the area is on the rise. After this accident, it has been reported that the police will be conducting a crackdown on individual homes operating as guesthouses without explicit permission.  

*Translated by Brian Boyle