South Korean repair crews took advantage of a lull in torrential rainfall to drain flooded train stations and fix damages after one of the worst storms in over a century hit Seoul, killing at least nine people including two Chinese nationals.
President Yoon Suk Yeol, in a meeting on Wednesday, apologized to the nation for “inconveniences” caused by rainfalls that the weather agency said were some of the heaviest in at least 115 years. A day earlier, he asked authorities to recalibrate disaster management plans by taking into account the effects of global warming.
“We can’t just keep calling these extreme weather situations unusual,” he said.
The storm that started Monday has dumped 525 millimeters (20.7 inches) of rain in parts of Seoul, the Meteorological Agency said. While there were clear skies in the capital Wednesday, it was forecasting up to another 80 millimeters of rainfall through Thursday.
The flooding, which turned Seoul streets into rivers and parking lots into ponds, has provided one of the biggest domestic challenges for Yoon since he took office in May. He has seen his support drop to some of the lowest levels of any of the country’s presidents at the same point of their term in office due to a series of policy stumbles.
It also exposed vulnerabilities in the South Korean capital to a severe precipitation events that data from climate scientists indicates have become more prevalent due to global warming.
At least 570 people lost their homes and 2,670 buildings were flooded, the interior ministry said. The storm also flooded train tracks and sent cascades of water into several subway stations, although transport authorities were able to restore rail services. Workers were also repairing severed power lines, which had caused blackouts.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry confirmed that two Chinese nationals were among the dead. One died in a landslide and another from electrocution due to the flood, according to China News Service.
Other victims included a family of three who drowned as their basement apartment filled with water. Yoon visited the apartment on Tuesday. Authorities were also searching for a 15-year-old girl who was swept away in raging waters while she made her way home Tuesday.
Yoon has been put on the defensive about his response so far to the flooding. An opposition lawmaker coined a term that soon made its way to social media: “phone-trol tower,” a play on words for Yoon issuing commands by phone from his home instead of relocating to a government control tower.
“Presidential office” and “natural disaster” were trending on Twitter in South Korea on Wednesday with many people criticizing Yoon’s decision to move the presidential office away from the long-used residence and administrative facility known as the Blue House, which has operational centers for crisis management.
The total cost of the storm is not yet known. Around 7,678 car owners claimed for damages due to flooded or damaged vehicles, with the total compensation estimated to be around 97.76 billion won ($74.6 million) according to General Insurance Association of Korea, an association of insurers including Samsung Fire & Marine Insurance and Hyundai Marine & Fire Insurance.
–With assistance from Yanping Li and Colum Murphy.
Top photograph: A woman takes a photograph of the Han River after the heavy rain in Seoul, South Korea, on Wednesday, Aug. 10, 2022. The torrential rains, which started on Monday and continued into Tuesday, caused flooding in parts of the city center. Photo credit: SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg
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