Record rain leaves at least 7 dead in South Korean capital

The KMA expects heavy rainfall for the central part of the country to continue through at least Aug 10. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

SEOUL (AFP, REUTERS) - At least seven people died in the South Korean capital of Seoul and metropolitan area overnight, authorities said on Tuesday (Aug 9), after torrential rain knocked out power and left roads and subways submerged.

The southern part of Seoul received more than 100mm of rain per hour on late Monday, with some part of the city having received 141.5mm of rain, the worst rainfall in 80 years, according to local media citing Korea Meteorological Administration (KMA).

The accumulated precipitation in Seoul stood at 420mm as of 5am on Tuesday (4am Singapore time), with more rain forecast.

In the glitzy, highly concentrated Gangnam district, some buildings were without power and had been inundated, while cars, buses and subway stations were submerged, leaving people stranded. Some stores had also been under water.

“I was near Gangnam station last night when the rainfall intensified, with thunder and lightning striking every 30 seconds,” said Lee Dongha, a 27-year-old office worker in Seoul.

“All of a sudden, buses, subway stations and streets were submerged, and that’s when I quickly decided to book an accommodation as I didn’t want to be left stranded, with nowhere to go.”

"Gangnam is said to be the centre of the economy and well developed, but it is ironic that it is so vulnerable to natural disasters,” 45-year-old office worker Moon Yong-chun told AFP as he tried to rescue his car from a flooded car park.

“I am shocked by the damage. The same thing happened around 11 years ago, and it is sad that the government has not taken any measures,” he added.

At least five people died in Seoul and two others in the neighbouring Gyeonggi Province as of 6 am on Tuesday, the Central Disaster and Safety Countermeasures Headquarters said.

Four died after being trapped in flooded buildings, one was electrocuted, one person was found under the wreckage of a bus stop, and another died in a landslide, it said.

At least nine people in the areas were injured, while six are missing.

The headquarters raised the crisis alert to the highest and requested public and private organisations to adjust their working hours.

The KMA issued heavy rain warnings across the capital and the metropolitan area of 26 million people, as well parts of Gangwon and Chungcheong Province.

Such advisories are issued when precipitation is predicted to surpass 60mm in a span of three hours or 110mm in 12 hours.

President Yoon Suk-yeol presided over an emergency response meeting, ordering authorities to focus on preventing casualties and quickly controlling and recovering flooded areas, the disaster headquarters said.

The president blamed the record rainfall on climate change and said the government needs to adapt.

“The government must review the current disaster management system from square one, given that abnormal weather caused by climate change is becoming a part of everyday life,” he said.

“We should respond all out until the situation is over in order to protect the precious people’s lives and property and take steps until the end, until the people feel that they are enough.”

But Yoon, who has seen his approval rating plummet to just 24 per cent since taking office in May, according to the latest Gallup Korea poll, is facing online criticism for failing to go to the government’s emergency control center on Monday.

Local media reported his absence was due to flooding in his area, but Yoon’s office denied that was a factor, saying he had decided to stay home as his team, including the prime minister, already had the response in hand.

Yoon still lives in his pre-election accommodation, having declined to move into the presidential Blue House, which he has decried as “imperial” and opened to the public as a park.

“Why did you leave the Blue House” became a trending topic online, as netizens shared videos purportedly showing flooding at his residence alongside mocking comments.

Meanwhile, the KMA has warned South Koreans to "be careful of the heavy rain, gusts, as well as thunder and lightning in the central region" for the next few days.

The KMA also said that up to 300 more millimetres of rain is forecast for the central region that includes Seoul through Thursday.

Transportation in South Korea remained highly disrupted on Tuesday, with many roads and tunnels closed for safety reasons, Yonhap reported.

Power outages were also reported across the capital late on Monday, while some operation of the Seoul metro and railway services was temporarily disrupted by the heavy rain.

Hiking trails at many of the country’s national parks are closed and passenger ferry routes, including from Incheon port, are suspended.

While South Korea often experiences heavy rains in summer, “such sharp increase in precipitation and frequent torrential rains cannot be explained without the big trend of climate change”, a KMA official, who spoke in condition of anonymity, told Reuters.

“This phenomenon is seen occurring more often due to climate change that has resulted in a prolonged summer.”

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