S. Korea postpones major exams after rare quake

A damaged vehicle and debris caused by an earthquake are seen in Pohang, South Korea, on Nov 15, 2017.
A damaged vehicle and debris caused by an earthquake are seen in Pohang, South Korea, on Nov 15, 2017. PHOTO: REUTERS
A rare 5.4-magnitude earthquake hit South Korea's south-east on Nov 15, 2017.
A rare 5.4-magnitude earthquake hit South Korea's south-east on Nov 15, 2017. PHOTO: USGS

SEOUL • South Korean authorities took the unprecedented step of postponing nationwide college entrance exams after a rare 5.4-magnitude earthquake hit the south-east of the country yesterday, sparking alarm.

The quake, the second most powerful recorded in South Korea, struck at a depth of 9km near the industrial city of Pohang at around 2.30pm (1.30pm Singapore time), the Korea Meteorological Administration said.

Seven people were injured, Seoul's public administration ministry said, but they warned that number could rise because the quake was shallow. Shallow quakes generally tend to be more damaging than deeper quakes as seismic waves from deep quakes have a longer distance to travel to the surface, losing energy along the way.

The Korean peninsula is rarely troubled by significant quakes but seismic activity is closely monitored because a spike is often the first indication that North Korea has carried out a nuclear test.

Yesterday's quake was felt across the country, including in the capital, Seoul. It came a day ahead of the all-important college entrance exam during which the whole nation falls silent to help teenagers focus on the annual test, whose result could define their future in the hyper-competitive society.

The Ministry of Education announced late yesterday that the exam would be postponed by a week because damage had been caused to five schools in Pohang where students were set to take the test, said Yonhap news agency.

This is reportedly the first time a natural disaster had forced such a reschedule of the crucial exams.

The quake was followed by multiple aftershocks including a 4.3-magnitude tremor that hit about two hours later. Emergency centres nationwide were flooded with thousands of calls seeking information.

Kakao Talk - the South's top mobile messenger application - reported service disruption due to heavy traffic.

The most powerful quake recorded in South Korea was a 5.8-magnitude tremor that hit the south-eastern city of Gyeongju in September last year.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 16, 2017, with the headline 'S. Korea postpones major exams after rare quake'. Print Edition | Subscribe