Landslides, Floods Kill 36 in South Korea

Landslides, Floods Kill 36 in South Korea

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The heaviest downpour in a century devastated the country’s central regions Tuesday and Wednesday, triggering multiple landslides and floods that killed at least 36 people and left 11 others missing.

The National Emergency Management Agency said more than 50 other people were also injured with four of them in critical condition, predicting that casualties could rise further as the heavy rain is expected to continue until Friday.

Flood waters inundated main roads, residential areas and basement facilities in and around Seoul, cutting the power supply at 14,000 homes and leaving thousands of vehicles submerged on flooded roads.

Seventeen residents were killed in the wreckage from landslides that occurred at hillside villages on Mt. Umyeon in Seocho, southern Seoul.

Among the casualties was Yang Myeong-sook, 63, the wife of Shinsegae Department Store Chairman Koo Hak-su. She drowned while examining the flooded basement of her house located at the foot of the mountain, police said.

Some 400 residents were ordered to evacuate their apartments in the posh mountainside village near the southern tip of the capital.

In Gwangju, Gyeonggi Province, at least six residents in a village near Gongiam Stream were killed and several others went missing after the stream overflowed its banks and submerged the village Wednesday afternoon.

Separately, earlier in the day in Chuncheon, about 100 kilometers northeast of Seoul, a massive landslide destroyed five residential buildings near the Soyang River Dam just after midnight, killing 11 university students and two other people.

The students from Inha University in Incheon were sleeping with other colleagues and tourists at a lodging house when the landslide hit. They were staying there to do voluntary work during their vacation.

Rescue workers said two persons still remain missing, while 24 other people, injured in the landslide, are receiving treatment at nearby hospitals. Four of them were in a serious condition, they said.

“I saw a house being swept away by the landslide on my way home and called the police immediately. The house was soon smashed into pieces. It happened in a flash,” said Choi Jun-yong, a 33-year-old resident in Chuncheon.

Some 90 residents in the area were evacuated from their homes after officials warned of further landslides.

Some people criticized the local government for failing to take necessary safety measures.

“One of the five buildings destroyed by the landslide was inundated by the heavy downpour and signs of a landslide were reported hours before the tragedy. But the city government didn’t list the area as a danger zone so people stayed there,” a resident said, asking not to be named.

A spokesman for Chuncheon City said there was much heavier rainfall than forecast by the weather agency.

The Korea Meteorological Administration (KMA) said more than 110 millimeters of rains per hour, a record volume witnessed once or twice in a century, were recorded in the country’s central regions, including the Seoul metropolitan area, from Tuesday night to Wednesday morning.

The precipitation recorded in Seoul for two days exceeded 400 mm, the agency said, adding that more than 250 mm of rainfall is expected in the capital area through Friday.

Traffic was at a standstill in most parts of the city as streets were flooded and traffic lights were shorted out by the torrential rain. All the 12 riverside parks along the Han River were closed to the public from 2 a.m.

Many public buildings and schools were also closed. EBS suspended broadcasting services after one of its power facilities in Seocho suffered damage from a landslide. The Korea Educational Development Institute, also located in the district, had to evacuate employees after its underground facilities were flooded.

Kim Jae-un, a 37-year-old taxi driver, said he had to quit work early due to “nightmarish” traffic jams and accidents on the roads.

“It took more than four hours to get out of downtown in the morning. It’s normally a 20-minute drive. It was just crazy,” he said.