Flood-hit South Korea guards against coronavirus at relief shelters

Madam Kwon Cha-soon (top), 83, at a makeshift flood relief shelter at a gym in Anseong yesterday, while the floor of the shelter is being sanitised by a health worker to prevent the spread of Covid-19. PHOTOS: REUTERS
Madam Kwon Cha-soon (above), 83, at a makeshift flood relief shelter at a gym in Anseong yesterday, while the floor of the shelter is being sanitised by a health worker to prevent the spread of Covid-19. PHOTO: REUTERS
Madam Kwon Cha-soon (top), 83, at a makeshift flood relief shelter at a gym in Anseong yesterday, while the floor of the shelter is being sanitised by a health worker to prevent the spread of Covid-19. PHOTOS: REUTERS
Madam Kwon Cha-soon, 83, at a makeshift flood relief shelter at a gym in Anseong yesterday, while the floor of the shelter is being sanitised by a health worker (above) to prevent the spread of Covid-19. PHOTO: REUTERS

ANSEONG (South Korea) • Tents erected in a school gym in the South Korean city of Anseong provided shelter for some families among more than 1,000 people made homeless by landslides and floods caused by the country's longest period of rain in seven years.

At least 15 people have been killed and more than 1,500 forced from their homes during 43 consecutive days of rain, though a few hundred have managed to return.

Sitting at the Anseong shelter, which housed 33 people as of yesterday, 83-year-old Kwon Cha-soon's eyes were filled with tears as she recounted losing everything to a landslide. "There isn't a single plate... It's an empty house," she said. "All my pots and garlic jars have been swept away."

More than 1,146 people remained in temporary shelters set up in gyms and community centres as of yesterday, the Ministry of the Interior and Safety said, with measures implemented at the facilities to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

As a precaution against the shelters becoming Covid-19 hot spots, officials at the school in Anseong, a city of 190,000 people 80km south of Seoul, erected tents and placed them slightly apart to encourage social distancing.

Relief workers checked people's temperatures and screened for any Covid-19 symptoms. Displaced residents were asked to wear masks and wash their hands.

"I was a bit concerned about the coronavirus, but there is no alternative given the situation," said Mr Kim Soo-goon, whose home was filled with debris and mud following a landslide.

Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun called for the Health Ministry to declare three provinces in the northern part of the country as special disaster zones, which would entitle them to receive additional aid.

In North Korea, state media warned of "torrential" rain, possible flooding, and high winds and waves.

While the reports did not mention any specific damage, this year's heavy rain comes during the summer harvest season, raising concerns about food security.

The rain appears to be hitting some of the major rice-growing areas of North Korea, said Dr Choi Yong-ho, research fellow at the Korea Rural Economic Institute in Seoul.

"This flooding will have a negative impact on North Korea's food supply," he said.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 06, 2020, with the headline 'Flood-hit S. Korea guards against coronavirus at relief shelters'. Print Edition | Subscribe