South Korea floods: Dozens die in flooded tunnel and landslides

At least 40 people in South Korea have died after a weekend of severe rains caused widespread flooding and landslides across the country.

The disasters have prompted calls from President Yoon Suk-yeol to “overhaul” how the country combats extreme weather arising from climate change.

On Monday, the nation was reeling from a tunnel tragedy where at least 13 people died in their vehicles after becoming trapped by floodwaters.

The full death toll is still unknown.

But on Monday, responders were still working to drain the 685m-long (2,247ft) tunnel in the central city of Cheongju – with divers deployed to retrieve victims.

At least 15 vehicles – including a bus- were trapped in the underpass on Saturday, when floodwater from a nearby burst riverbank poured in.

Nine survivors have been found so far. Meanwhile, families of those missing have waited anxiously for information at a local hospital.

“I have no hope but I can’t leave,” a parent of one of those missing in the tunnel told local news agency Yonhap.

“My heart wrenches thinking how painful it must have been for my son in the cold water.”

Rescuers work to reach cars trapped in a flooded tunnel in South Korea. Diggers are also seen around the entrance to the tunnel.

Elsewhere, at least 19 people died in the mountainous North Gyeongsang region in central South Korea after landslides swept away whole houses.

Some 6,400 residents were evacuated early Saturday after the Goesan Dam in North Chungcheong began to overflow.

A number of low-lying villages near the dam as well as many of the roads connecting them were submerged, leaving some residents trapped in their homes.

Song Du-ho, one of these residents, told the BBC he has never experienced rain like that which fell this weekend.

The water was up to his waist by the time rescue workers came for him in the middle of the night, along with his wife, who has problems with a bad back, he said.

“I would be lying if I said I wasn’t scared when the water was coming in. I could have died,” the 87-year-old said.

South Korea is experiencing one of its most intense summer monsoon seasons on record, with heavy downpours across the past week causing floods, landslides and power cuts across the country.

More torrential rain is expected this week – with showers forecast to Wednesday.

South Korea’s President Yoon Suk-yeol on Monday vowed to “completely overhaul” how the country responds to such extreme weather events.

“Extreme weather events like this will become commonplace. We must accept that climate change is happening and deal with it,” he said on Monday, ahead of a visit to the flood-hit North Gyeongsang province.

He also stated that a lack of proper management in flood-prone areas had caused many casualties.

In Cheongju where the tunnel flooding occurred, victims’ families had criticised local authorities for not shutting off access to the tunnel earlier, when flood warnings were already in place.

President Yoon has ordered military deployments to managing the aftermath of downpours across the country. He also announced the designation of hard-hit areas as “special disaster zones” eligible for state support.

As of Monday morning, at least nine people were still missing after the weekend deluge, authorities said.

Almost 300mm (11.8in) of rain is reported to have fallen across South Korea on Saturday alone.

The country typically sees 1,000mm (39.4in) to 1,800mm (70.9in) a year, according to the Korean Meteorological Association – much of that falls during the summer months.

In the past fortnight, extreme rain has caused floods and landslides across several countries – including India, China and Japan.

While many factors contribute to flooding, scientists say a warming atmosphere caused by climate change makes extreme rainfall more likely.

The warmer it becomes, the more moisture the atmosphere can hold, resulting in more droplets and heavier rainfall, sometimes in a shorter space of time and over a smaller area.

<<BBC>>