South Korea mobilizes to cope with flooding, landslides

More than 20 inches of rain have fallen on Seoul, South Korea, since Tuesday. Tens of thousands of workers are repairing housing and railroad tracks, as well as searching for missing people.

Ahn Young-joon/AP
Vehicles are submerged in floodwater after heavy rain in Seoul, South Korea, Thursday. Thousands of rescuers used heavy machinery and shovels Thursday to clear mud and search for survivors after huge landslides and flooding killed more than 40 people in the country.

The South Korean government mobilized tens of thousands of soldiers, police, and relief workers in recovery efforts after record rainfall caused landslides and severe flooding in Seoul this week.

More than 20 inches of rain have fallen on Seoul since Tuesday, including 11.87 on Wednesday, the highest single-day total since record-keeping began. The rains have produced heavy flooding in southern parts of Seoul, with waters on some of the area’s main thoroughfares rising as high as the roofs of cars and portions of the riverside highway being temporarily inundated. Several subway stations were also closed on Wednesday.

More spectacularly, the rain has triggered several landslides. In Chuncheon, a city about 50 miles east of the capital, 13 people were killed when a boarding house was swept away, and at least 16 were reported dead when a torrent of mud and water tore down Umyeon Mountain in southern Seoul.

Home video shot from an apartment balcony opposite the mountain and broadcast by Korea’s KBS News shows a wall of debris as tall as trees tearing across an eight-lane highway and crashing into an apartment tower opposite the mountain. In all, the rains have resulted in 48 deaths – 30 in Seoul – and at least three missing, according to a report issued by Korea’s National Emergency Management Agency on Thursday.

The government has responded by sending workers from eight ministries and government organizations to aid in recovery in Seoul and elsewhere, according to the NEMA report. This includes more than 34,000 soldiers and reservists from the Ministry of National Defense, and members of the Ministry of Land, Transport, and Maritime Affairs, who are providing emergency restoration to areas where soil washed away and 18 locations where rail tracks were damaged. Some 4,380 homes were reported damaged, of which 4,306 had been at least partly repaired and drained as of Thursday.

NEMA announced that its immediate priority would be search operations for those still missing, and that they would also focus on monitoring the water level and checking for locations susceptible to further landslides so as to relocate people if necessary.

In the meantime, the rains show no sign of stopping.

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