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The routine of morning roll call Friday brought home the horror of sudden death to the students at Yong Nam Middle School.

As names were called, the blackboard steadily filled with names of absent students. Those present knew well that most had been killed on their way to school when an explosion at an underground construction site tore to the surface.By the end of the day, 45 students and one teacher were confirmed dead in this all-boys school, making it the hardest-hit of the seven middle schools in the area. Another 22 students were injured.

In all, 98 people were killed, including 60 students, all teenagers, on their way to class.

The explosion occurred just down the street from Yong Nam's four-story, red-brick building when a spark from a subway line construction site apparently set off gas leaking from a broken pipeline.

Many of the young victims, wearing navy blue school uniforms, their hair cut short, were crossing an intersection when the blast sent up a tower of flame 150 feet high, said an injured math teacher.

The force crushed vehicles and tossed construction material.

"I thought it couldn't be real," said student Kim Dong-duk, who watched from across the street as buses and cars carrying classmates were thrown in the air.

The school building itself sustained only broken windows in the gymnasium, and students who had already arrived were safe. Those killed were mostly ninth-graders, who start their day later than older students and were still arriving.