Typhoons wreak havoc in Korean peninsula, Japan

Flights, train services scrapped; N. Korea may face food crisis after destruction of farmland

A tree is knocked down due by the Typhoon Lingling in Seoul, South Korea, on Sept 7, 2019. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

A powerful typhoon has destroyed thousands of hectares of farmland in North Korea, raising the spectre of severe food shortages, while another typhoon barrelled towards Japan last night, causing several flights and bullet train services to be cancelled.

Typhoon Lingling, bringing winds of up to 196kmh, hit the southern coast of South Korea on Saturday morning before moving up to the North, where it destroyed 46,200ha of farmland in the sanctions-squeezed country.

The typhoon killed three people in South Korea and left more than 161,000 homes without power. Hundreds of flights were also cancelled, as the fifth-strongest winds ever recorded to have hit the peninsula damaged about 3,600 properties and toppled hundreds of trees.

In North Korea, the typhoon killed five people and injured three more, according to the state-owned Korea Central News Agency. "Crops fell down, (were) inundated or buried in 46,200ha of farmland," it said, adding that 460 houses and 15 public buildings were also destroyed or damaged. "Active work to eradicate the aftermath is now under way in the afflicted areas."

Neighbouring Japan, meanwhile, was bracing itself for a separate storm that could bring "historic" winds and rain, said its meteorological agency.

Typhoon Faxai, packing winds of up to 216kmh, was heading towards coastal areas near Tokyo late last night, although transport services were hit even earlier in the day.

In all, 170 international and domestic flights were cancelled yesterday. Singapore Airlines also rescheduled two of its flights to Tokyo.

The authorities warned of flooding, landslides and up to 400mm of rainfall. Meanwhile, Central Japan Railway Company said it would cancel some 100 bullet train services connecting Tokyo with central and western Japanese cities yesterday, while ferry services in Tokyo Bay were also scrapped.

While the more advanced Japan and South Korea are well equipped to deal with the aftermath of the typhoons, North Korea is feared to struggle with restoration and rehabilitation works.

In a meeting last Friday, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un berated government officials and described them as being "helpless against the typhoon, unaware of its seriousness". He then called on the army to drive efforts to minimise damage, adding that it would be an "enormous struggle".

Food security in North Korea is one of the lowest in the world, with 40 per cent of its population in danger of facing a hunger crisis, according to the United Nations. Still, it earlier rejected food aid offered by the South.

Dr Cheong Seong-chang of the Sejong Institute think-tank said Pyongyang may have ignored Seoul's food outreach as it "felt it is not necessary".

He told The Straits Times that the typhoon could decrease the North's food production, but the extent of damage remains to be seen. "If the scale of the damage is very big, North Korea's stance towards the South's food support programme might be different."

  • Additional reporting by Dami Shin

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 09, 2019, with the headline Typhoons wreak havoc in Korean peninsula, Japan. Subscribe