June 11, 2015 / 1:02 PM / 2 years ago

Pyongyang's Koryo Hotel, tourist hub, catches fire

SEOUL (Reuters) - A section of the Koryo Hotel, one of the oldest and best known hotels in Pyongyang, caught fire on Thursday, sources who witnessed the fire in the North Korean capital told Reuters.

Images obtained by Reuters showed plumes of black smoke billowing from the bridge connecting the two 43-storey towers of the 143-metre (469-feet) structure, which lies a short distance from Pyongyang’s bustling train station and the Taedong river which cuts through the city.

One source in Pyongyang who witnessed the scene said swarms of police, paramilitary, ambulances and officials from North Korean state security were outside the hotel.

“Several foreigners were apprehended for trying to take pictures of the scene,” the source, who declined to be identified, told Reuters.

It was not immediately clear if the hotel had been fully evacuated. The fire started at 6.15pm local time and by 11.45pm only thick plumes of black smoke were visible from the outside, the source said.

North Koreans leaving the building said the inside was still burning, according to the source. A second source at the scene said a heavy downpour may have helped contain the blaze. Both Seoul and Pyongyang were hit by seasonal heavy rains on Thursday night.

North Korea is one of the world’s most isolated and secretive countries, and there was no mention in state media of the fire.

In May last year, North Korean state media said the government had apologized to bereaved families after an apartment building collapsed in Pyongyang, possibly killing hundreds.

Unlike the unfinished 105-storey pyramid-shaped Ryugyong Hotel, the plush Koryo Hotel has for years been the go-to place to stay for foreign tourists visiting North Korea.

Reporting by James Pearson; Editing by Andrew Hay

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