The Korea Herald


[Editorial] Brace for typhoon

Khanun forecast to sweep through Korea; authorities must take preemptive steps

By Korea Herald

Published : Aug. 9, 2023 - 05:30

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Typhoon Khanun is now heading for the Korean Peninsula after shifting its projected course.

The typhoon, with strong winds and heavy rain, is forecast to land on South Korea's southern coast Thursday morning and sweep through the peninsula vertically, the Korea Meteorological Administration said.

When it makes a landfall on the peninsula as forecast, the typhoon may be packing strong winds that have a maximum speed between 33 meters per second and 44 meters per second -- gusts strong enough to derail a running train.

The likelihood that Khanun may change course and circumvent the peninsula at the last minute cannot be completely excluded, but for now, the chances aren't high. The country must prepare for contingencies.

Damage due to Khanun is likely to be great as the typhoon is expected to move slowly. Typhoon Rusa, which swept through the Korean Peninsula at 15 kilometers per hour in August 2002, left 246 people dead or missing and causing 5.14 trillion won ($3.91 billion) in property damage. Rusa also dumped 870 mm of rain in Gangneung, Gangwon Province on a single day. In 2012, Typhoon Sanba rampaged the peninsula, flooding hundreds of houses.

Khanun is expected to bring strong winds and downpours throughout the country. Amid the current situation in which repairs aren't finished yet after record monsoon rains last month, a major typhoon tearing through the interior of the peninsula is likely to inflict additional damage. Heavy rainfall has weakened the ground, among others. If further heavy rains fall on such saturated soils and strong winds blow, landslides and embankment collapses can occur easily.

Decades ago, typhoons and monsoons caused many more fatalities. Typhoon Sarah in 1959 left 849 people dead or missing. The casualties due to Typhoons Betty in 1972 and Yanni in 1998 reached 550 and 380, respectively. Over time, the situation improved gradually thanks to the steady expansion of disaster prevention infrastructure. And yet, with recent climate change, natural forces have become much more destructive.

Global warming causes extreme weather events around the world. Damage can go beyond expectations if people neglect the impacts of climate change. Central and local governments must do thorough checks of disaster-prone areas and take proactive measures. It has become a must to err on the side of being more prepared than less.

The deadly Osong underpass flooding last month shows accident prevention facilities and equipment and response manuals are useless if the relevant authorities are incompetent or lax. Failure to close off vehicle traffic to the underground roadway in Osong-eup, Cheongju City, North Chungcheong Province, before it flooded led to the loss of 14 lives. A day before the incident, people called the authorities to report the possibility of the underpass flooding, but none of the relevant provincial and municipal governments, police or fire departments failed to follow response manuals properly.

As shown by the government's all-out -- though belated -- struggle to improve conditions at the Saemangeum campsite of the World Scout Jamboree, public officials should go directly to vulnerable and affected sites to find solutions and respond quickly. In particular, they must come up with extraordinary measures to prevent additional damage in low-lying and mountainous areas prone to disasters such as floods and landslides, as well as in areas where repairs from previous disasters are still unfinished.

Agencies related to disaster prevention and relief must strengthen their cooperation. The government must proactively control access to dangerous zones such as underpasses and obsolete embankments as well as evacuate residents preemptively. People must exercise caution to prevent injuries and damage. They should continue to follow information on local authorities' responses, particularly on evacuations, and avoid risky behavior such as going near dangerous areas.

The government must cope well with Typhoon Khanun, which will make landfall on the Korean Peninsula soon. This time, it must avoid being criticized for its role in any "man-made" disasters.