150 Said Dead in North Korea Train Explosion

The fearsome picture of devastation from the North Korean train explosions near the Chinese border took shape Friday with initial reports saying 150 were killed, 1,249 injured and 1,850 apartments or houses destroyed.

``We're ready to offer our close neighbor our best medical help anytime,'' said an official at Dandong Chinese Hospital.

In Seoul, Unification Minister Jeong Se-hyun said China was urging North Korea to send the injured across the border to hospitals in China. But he said Pyongyang was instead asking China to dispatch relief workers to the scene.

China confirmed the first fatalities Friday afternoon, saying two Chinese were killed and 12 others injured in the disaster. The report by its state-run Xinhua News Agency cited the Chinese Embassy in Pyongyang.

Jeong cited only a ``large number'' of dead and injured.

The European Union said Friday its humanitarian aid representatives would travel to the scene over the weekend to assess how it could help victims of the accident.

European Commission spokesman Jean-Charles Ellerman-Kingombe said EU officials had been invited by the North Korean authorities to go on location on Saturday, two days after the explosion.

North Korea declared an emergency in the area while cutting off international telephone connections to prevent crash details from leaking out, Yonhap reported.

The chief of the South Korean Red Cross is in North Korea on an unrelated business trip and is to evaluate what kind of aid North Korea might need, Jeong said.

The North's official KCNA news agency said in a brief dispatch that the Red Cross official was greeted Friday by North Korea's No. 2 leader, Kim Yong Nam. But KCNA still had not mentioned the disaster by Friday.

The international Red Cross plans to launch an international appeal for aid, Sparrow said.

The blast reportedly occurred nine hours after North Korean leader Kim Jong Il passed through the station on his way home from a three-day visit to China. But Jeong said that given the circumstances and the timing of the blast, ``I don't think sabotage was involved.''

At the time of the blast, an international passenger train carrying many ethnic Chinese was parked in the station, South Korea's JoongAng Ilbo newspaper reported, without citing sources.

The British Broadcasting Corp. showed on its Web site what it said was a satellite photo taken 18 hours after the reported explosion. The black-and-white photo showed huge clouds of black smoke billowing from the site.

South Korea's acting president, Goh Kun, ordered his government to prepare assistance if necessary, and the country's Red Cross said it was ready to send food and clothes.

Referring to reports of widespread devastation, Goh said at a meeting of his senior staff, ``If the report is true, this is a very tragic accident and we relay deep condolences.''