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Monsoon rain leaves at least 36 dead, 9 missing, thousands displaced

By Lee Jaeeun

Published : July 16, 2023 - 14:37

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A rescue operation is underway on a submerged underpass in Osong-eup, Cheongju, North Chungcheong Province, Sunday. (Yonhap) A rescue operation is underway on a submerged underpass in Osong-eup, Cheongju, North Chungcheong Province, Sunday. (Yonhap)

Heavy monsoon rain left at least 36 people dead and left nine others missing while forcing 7,866 people to be evacuated from their homes across South Korea, authorities said Sunday.

President Yoon Suk Yeol, who is on a state visit to Eastern Europe, held a video conference on Sunday with the Central Disaster and Safety Countermeasures Headquarters to be briefed about the damage due to heavy rain and the nation's reponses to address the damage, according to Yoon’s office.

“I respectfully express my condolences to those who died due to this heavy rain,” Yoon said, adding he would preside over the safety headquarters meeting as soon as he returns to Korea.

Yoon also asked Prime Minister Han Duck-soo to mobilize all available manpower and resources to respond to the disaster. So far, 1,239 soldiers have been dispatched for the aid operation as of Sunday morning and 6,500 across the nation are on standby, according to the Defense Ministry.

“The government will mobilize all personnel and resources from the military, police, fire authorities and municipalities to protect the safety of the people,” Han said in an emergency meeting Sunday morning.

According to figures from the Central Disaster and Safety Countermeasures Headquarters as of 11 p.m. Sunday, 36 people had been confirmed dead following the torrential rain that hit most of the nation from July 9.

The death toll had changed from 37 earlier in the evening to 36. Reason for the change was not immediately made known.

Most fatalities came from the southeastern region of the country. In North Gyeongsang Province, 17 people died mainly due to landslides and housing collapses, followed by 11 reported deaths in North Chungcheong Province.

The death toll rose by seven over the course of five hours up on Sunday morning, as the authorities began to count the death toll related to a flooded underpass in North Chungcheong Province in its estimate.

In Cheongju, North Chungcheong Province, 15 vehicles were trapped in an underpass after the nearby Miho River flooded Saturday morning. One person was found dead, and nine were rescued at the scene and sent to hospital. Rescuers later found two more bodies from a bus that was trapped in the tunnel, according to the fire authorities.

A total of 11 people were reported missing from the underpass flooding. Emergency officials are trying to search for others believed to be trapped in the flooded underpass.

After the announcement released by Central Disaster and Safety Countermeasures Headquarters at 11 a.m. Sunday, three more bodies were found, bringing the total number of deaths to 37. Two bodies were lifted from the flooded underpass in Cheongju, and the other was found in North Gyeongsang Province.

The death toll could grow as rescue operations are underway across the country. Not including the missing or injured people related to the flooded underpass in Cheongju, across the country a total of nine people were still unaccounted for, while 22 were injured.

A rescue operation is underway in the county of Imsil-gun, North Jeolla Province, Sunday. (Yonhap) A rescue operation is underway in the county of Imsil-gun, North Jeolla Province, Sunday. (Yonhap)

A total of 7,866 people from 4,582 households across the nation, mostly from southern regions of the country, were ordered to evacuate due to flooding in their apartment complex or a nearby dam overflowing, as of 11 a.m. Low-lying villages near dams were submerged, with over three-quarters of residents unable to return home.

As floods swept away crops and roads, 216 roads remain closed, while 489 trails in 20 national parks are closed. A total of 149 cases of damage to public property were reported, including 19 cases of destroyed or swept-away roads. Meanwhile, 124 cases of private property damage were reported, including 33 flooded homes.

Nearly 26,600 households were affected by power outages since Thursday due to torrential rains, though 98 percent of them were recovered as of Sunday morning.

Since July 9 up to Sunday morning, central regions received the most extensive rainfall, with more than 625.5 millimeters in the city of Gongju and the county of Cheongyang -- both in South Chungcheong Province.

This is well above the average rainfall during the monsoon season. According to South Korea’s weather agency, 378 mm of rain averaged in North and South Chungcheong Provinces and 341 mm fell on average in the southern region, from 1991 to 2020 during the 20 days of monsoon season from the end of June until mid-July,

The weather agency said some parts of the country will continue to be under the influence of heavy rain.

More than 300 mm of rain is forecast in North and South Chungcheong Provinces, Jeolla Province and North and South Gyeongsang Provinces in the next couple of days.

In North and South Chungcheong Provinces and North Gyeongsang Province, 30 millimeters of precipitation is expected starting Monday, while on Tuesday in the morning, the regions may see 30-60 mm of rain, with some areas seeing 80 mm of rain in extreme cases.