The torrential rain that dumped more than 240 millimeters on Busan and the eastern part of South Gyeongsang Province Monday wrought great havoc, including 14 dead and missing, and led to the shutdown of the Kori-2 nuclear power plant as the rainwater flooded in.
Parts of Busan, the country’s second-largest city with a population of 3.5 million, received up to 130 mm of rain per hour, which caused extensive flash floods as the storm drain system was unable to handle so much rainwater. Busan’s metro system came to a halt, landslides ensued and underpasses became flooded as did much of the city.
The authorities issued a heavy rain warning and sent out emergency text messages, but the warnings came too late to stop people from driving. The city’s emergency response system all but failed as the flood of 119 and 112 calls ― made to the fire department and the police department, respectively ― brought the system to a halt.
In a tragic case, a driver who had unknowingly driven into a flooded underpass made frantic calls to 119 and 112 but was repeatedly put on hold as water rushed into the car. The two passengers, a the driver’s mother and child, were rescued 30 minutes later by an emergency crew returning from another operation who happened to spot the submerged car, but later died.
The 119 service was inundated with nearly 6,000 calls, about 20 times more than the daily average. The police, which use 16 lines for 112, and the 120 administrative services hotline manned by 20 people were woefully inadequate to handle the deluge of calls that day. Even the system that allows calls to 112 to be heard by the fire department ― a system put into place after the Sewol ferry disaster to facilitate a speedy response to an emergency ― proved ineffective. The Busan case should be thoroughly reviewed to improve the emergency response system.
Meteorologists explain that localized heavy rainfall is difficult to forecast. Yet, scientists warn that such downpours will become more common as a result of global climate change. Global climate change is already taking place: We see it in monsoon season being replaced by more frequent, localized, heavy rainfall. We must prepare to better handle such extreme weather patterns. More investment in the weather forecasting system can be a starting point. Infrastructure, such as sewer systems, also need to reflect the reality of the new weather patterns.