The iconic Koryo Hotel in Pyongyang, North Korea, caught fire on Thursday. According to Reuters‘ James Pearson, “plumes of black smoke” were emerging from the 43-story twin-towered building. According to that same report, which cited eyewitness sources in Pyongyang, the fire drew a serious reaction from the government and security forces: “swarms of police, paramilitary, ambulances and officials from North Korean state security were outside the hotel.”
Reuters could not verify if the building had been completely evacuated. North Korea’s state media is not reporting the fire and state security personnel are ensuring that foreigners attempting to take photographs of the scene are apprehended. As of 11 am EST, reports indicated that the fire had not yet been subdued, though a downpour of rain helped moderate the damage. A Reuters source noted that “North Koreans leaving the building said the inside was still burning.”
The Koryo Hotel is North Korea’s second-largest functional hotel. It was built in 1985 with the intention of showcasing “the glory and strength of the DPRK.” Kim Il-Sung, the founder of North Korea and Kim Jong-un’s grandfather, was reportedly closely involved with the construction of the hotel.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
The hotel is noted for its particular extravagance in the otherwise demure North Korean capital. According to one account, the hotel’s entryway “consists of a 9-metre (30 ft) wide jade dragon’s mouth that leads into an expansive lobby dominated by a mosaic of North Korean cultural symbols. The mosaic tiles make use of a wide variety of precious metals and gemstones underneath low-dispersion glass panes, which are replaced biannually to preserve the mosaic’s luster.”
Despite its sheen, the hotel has an unremarkable three-star rating by Western standards. Within North Korea, it is considered a five-star facility. Koryo Hotel currently features a 3.5 star rating on TripAdvisor, with most travelers highlighting the hotel’s relative comfort in an otherwise unwelcoming country. The hotel is popular with foreign tourists for its location in central Pyongyang, along the Taedong river.
The political and economic ramifications of the Koryo Hotel fire could be great. As the hotel is a symbol of excellence in Pyongyang, the fire will prove embarrassing to the Kim regime, particularly given widespread reports in foreign media.
This is a developing story and The Diplomat will update this page with details as they emerge.