South Korea’s flood death toll has risen to 40, and Yoon blames failed responses

  • Dozens of people died after a tunnel sank
  • Search efforts continue as some question why it has not been closed
  • Yoon visits the area hit by the landslide and vows to rebuild
  • Rain damage in North Korea is still not clear

SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korean President Yoon Sok-yol on Monday blamed authorities for failing to follow disaster response rules, as the death toll from days of torrential rain rose to 40, including 10 killed in a submerged tunnel.

The Al-Uluj Mountains have hit the central and southern regions since Thursday as the rainy season, which began in late June, reached its peak. The Ministry of Interior also reported nine people missing and 34 injured across the country.

The 12 deaths, including three bodies found overnight, occurred in a tunnel in Cheongju, 110 kilometers (68 miles) south of Seoul, where 16 vehicles, including a bus, were immersed in flash floods on Saturday after a river dam collapsed.

The incident raised questions about South Korea’s efforts to prevent and respond to flood damage. Some drivers who regularly use the road blamed the government for failing to block access to the tunnel despite widespread flooding expected.

Yoon, just back from an overseas trip, on Monday held a disaster response meeting and admitted that the situation has been made worse by poor management of vulnerable areas.

“We have repeatedly emphasized access control to dangerous areas and preventive evacuation since last year, but if the basic principles of disaster response are not maintained immediately, it is difficult to guarantee public safety,” Yun said during the meeting.

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According to the Interior Ministry, nearly 900 firefighting, police and military officials took part in the tunnel rescue operation, using boats, underwater drones and other equipment.

West Cheongju fire chief Seo Jeong-il said at a news briefing Monday that while search efforts continue, there are no signs of more casualties in the vehicles remaining in the tunnel.

Floods have claimed dozens of lives during recent rainy seasons as weather patterns become more extreme.

The government last year pledged to take steps to better deal with disasters caused by climate change after Seoul, including the attractive Gangnam district, was hit by its heaviest rains in 115 years, killing at least 14 people and inundating subways, roads and homes.

On Monday, Yoon flew a helicopter over some of the devastated areas. Earlier, he called for maximum efforts to save the remaining victims and pledged support for those affected, including designating flood-affected areas as special disaster areas.

“The government will restore everything, so don’t worry too much,” Yoon said after meeting residents in Yecheon in North Gyeongsang Province, an area hit by landslides.

The situation across the border in North Korea remains unclear, but in recent weeks state media has reported torrential rains and indicated measures to protect crops in a country that has suffered severe food shortages.

In a briefing, the South’s Unification Ministry said it had asked Pyongyang to notify Seoul of any plans to release water from the Hwanggang Dam. In 2009, the release of water from the dam triggered downstream floods that killed six South Koreans.

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Reporting from Hyonhee Shin. Additional reporting by Hyunsu Yim; Editing by Ed Davies, Tom Hogg and Lincoln Feist

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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