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Weak ground on Mt. Umyeon prompts deadly landslides

The landslides on Mount Umyeon in southern Seoul on Wednesday after two days of torrential rain could be attributed to weak ground, experts said Thursday.

They also noted that the Seoul municipality did not take sufficient measures to stave off landslides even though concerns have persistently been raised over the possibility of earth falls near it.

Downpours on the mountain took the lives of 17 people.

“Last September, 200 millimeters of rain pummeled the mountain, causing earth, sand and rocks to fall from it. As it is made, in large part, of earth (rather than rocks), the possibility of landslides was high,” an official at Seoul Metropolitan Government said, declining to be named.

Experts also said that roads, pavement and a lack of green areas in the capital have worsened rainwater drainage.

Areas in southern Seoul were particularly vulnerable to the massive amounts of rain as they are low-lying with streams nearby. Nearly 100 millimeters of rain per hour falling in these areas was obviously overwhelming given such conditions, they said.

Some others said that Typhoon Kompasu, which pummeled the central part of the Korean Peninsula last summer, could have destabilized and weakened the ground of the mountain.

Park Chang-kun, professor of civil engineering at Kwandong University, said that those residing near the mountain might not have carried out a proper safety check on the area when constructing their houses there.

“When building houses in a relatively small area, in many cases, people skipped their safety inspection that would help find out whether the ground could sustain natural disasters,” he told The Korea Herald.

“They appear to have focused just on developing the area rather than on ensuring that the site for their houses is safe from the possible natural disasters.”

Park also stressed that despite past small-scale landslides in the mountain, the municipality did not make due efforts to prevent such human and economic damages.

“This is a real global topic given that this (preventable) disaster took place in what they call an international city. (When such cases occurred,) the city called them ‘natural disasters’ rather than ones caused by human errors, and failed to take proper measures to prevent disasters,” he said.

“The city has focused on improving only its appearance rather than on safety. There should be a change in the way they carry out development projects.”

Experts also said that the damages came not just because there were large amounts of rainfalls, but because rains poured down in a short period of time on certain areas, particularly in southern Seoul.

According to officials, 202 millimeters of rain fell from 6 a.m. for three hours on Wednesday while 161 millimeters and 142 millimeters of precipitation were recorded from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. in Seocho-gu and Gangnam-gu, respectively. During the same time, there came only 17 millimeters of rain in Nowon-gu, northern Seoul.

By Song Sang-ho (sshluck@heraldcorp.com)
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