Nine Dead as Typhoon Ravages South Korea
By Hyung Jin Kim 29 August 2012
SEOUL, South Korea—A powerful typhoon pounded South Korea with strong winds and heavy rain on Tuesday, killing nine and churning up rough seas that smashed two Chinese fishing ships onto rocks and forced the coast guard to perform a daring rescue of survivors.
Rescuers saved 12 fishermen and searched for 10 still missing from the ships that hit rocks off South Korea’s southern Jeju island. Five fishermen were killed, officials said.
Separately, at least four other people died as Typhoon Bolaven knocked out power to hundreds of thousands of South Koreans, canceled flights and temporarily halted joint war games by US and South Korean military forces.
North Korea, which is still struggling to rebuild from massive floods and a devastating drought before that, was next in the typhoon’s path. Heavy rain and strong winds hit many parts of the country Tuesday, a day that was supposed to be a North Korean celebration of its young people.
The typhoon knocked down hundreds of trees, destroyed power cables and caused blackouts in the western cities of Kaesong and Haeju, the North’s official Korean Central News Agency said. It said damage was expected to grow as the typhoon moves across the country.
Off South Korea’s Jeju Island, dangerous waves kept rescue vessels from approaching the wrecked fishing ships. The coast guard used a special gun to shoot rope to one ship so officers could pull themselves over and bring the fishermen back to shore, coast guard spokesman Ko Chang-keon said.
Eighteen fishermen survived. The coast guard rescued 12, and the others swam or were washed ashore.
South Korea issued a storm warning for the capital, Seoul, as Bolaven battered the country’s south and west, knocking over street lights and church spires and ripping signs from stores. A large container box crushed an apartment janitor to death, a woman fell to her death from a rooftop where she kept dried red peppers and another person died after bricks hit a house, according to disaster and fire officials. An 80-year-old man died after a small makeshift building fell on him, officials said.
Strong wind gusts left Seoul streets covered with leaves, garbage and branches. More than 15,000 schools canceled classes, and businesses and homes taped windows or pasted the glass with wet newspapers to keep them from shattering.
About 1.7 million South Korean homes and businesses lost power, the National Emergency Management Agency said, though all but about 200,000 had electricity restored by Tuesday night.
More than 80 families were left homeless because of floods or storm damage. Nearly 200 flights were canceled, 860 hectares (2,130 acres) of farmland were flooded and 32 ships were damaged, the agency said in a statement.
In Pyongyang, North Korea’s capital, Associated Press cameras captured cars splashing through slightly flooded streets, spraying people on crowded sidewalks who scrambled to avoid the water. Residents appeared to be going about their daily lives, though many wore rain boots and jackets, angling their umbrellas to fight the wind and rain.
The bad weather came on North Korea’s first Youth Day since new leader Kim Jong Un took over in December. But he managed to visit Korean People’s Army Unit 318 in the eastern area of the heavily defended north-south border despite “torrential rain,” the official Korean Central News Agency reported on Tuesday.
Big rainstorms often mean catastrophe in the North because of poor drainage, deforestation and decrepit infrastructure. North Korea is still trying to help people with food, shelter, healthcare and clean water after heavy flooding in July, according to a recent United Nations situation report. More than 170 died nationwide, and tens of thousands of homes were destroyed in the floods, according to official state accounts.
Many flood victims still live in tents with limited access to water and other basic facilities, the UN report said, and there is worry about increased malnutrition in coming weeks. Two South Korean aid groups had been scheduled to visit the North Korean city of Kaesong for talks on Wednesday on flood aid, but the North on Tuesday canceled the meeting, according to aid group officials. One of the groups said the North cited strained ties between the two Koreas.
Weather officials had warned that Bolaven would be the strongest typhoon to hit the region in several years, but its gusts weren’t as powerful as predicted.
The typhoon hit the southern Japanese island of Okinawa on Monday, injuring four people but doing less damage than feared before moving off to sea. More than 75,000 households lost power.
Farther south, another typhoon, Tembin, doubled back and hit Taiwan three days after drenching the same region before blowing out to sea. Fierce winds and rain toppled coconut trees in the beach resort town of Hengchun.
In Manila, the Philippine weather agency reissued typhoon warnings to residents and fishermen for Tembin, which blew out of the archipelago over the weekend. Fishing boats in the north were urged not to venture out to sea while larger ships were warned of possible big waves and heavy rains.