Tragedy strikes South Korea as heavy rains, flooding claim 33 lives


South Korea is grappling with the aftermath of heavy rains and flooding that have resulted in the loss of 33 lives, with 10 people still missing. Rescue teams have been tirelessly working to reach individuals trapped in a flooded tunnel, while the country contends with the peak of its summer monsoon season, enduring persistent downpours and consequential landslides.

Authorities have reported that the relentless rainfall over the past four days caused a major dam to overflow, exacerbating the already dire situation. The interior ministry confirmed the death toll of 33 individuals, many of whom were buried under landslides or submerged in a flooded reservoir. Additionally, 10 people are still unaccounted for, presumed to have met similar fates.

Rescue operations are currently underway to reach over 10 vehicles trapped within a 430-meter (1,410-foot) underground tunnel located in Cheongju, North Chungcheong province. Tragically, the tunnel was inundated on Saturday morning when floodwaters rapidly surged, leaving those inside with little chance to escape, as reported by the Yonhap news agency. So far, seven bodies have been recovered from the tunnel, while divers continue their relentless search for further victims.

One anguished parent, whose child is among the missing, expressed their feelings of despair, saying to Yonhap, “I have no hope but I can’t leave. My heart wrenches thinking how painful it must have been for my son in the cold water.”

Disturbing images broadcasted on local television depicted a torrential stream of water from an adjacent river breaching its banks, cascading into the tunnel. Rescue workers valiantly struggled to employ boats in their attempts to reach those trapped inside.

Recognizing the gravity of the situation, South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol, currently abroad, called for an emergency meeting with his aides to address the government’s response to the heavy rains and ensuing flooding. Prime Minister Han Duck-soo received orders from President Yoon to mobilize all available resources in order to minimize casualties.

The majority of the casualties, including 17 deceased and nine missing persons, hailed from North Gyeongsang province. Massive landslides in the mountainous region engulfed houses, claiming the lives of those unfortunate enough to be inside. Furthermore, reports indicate that some individuals reported missing were swept away when a river overflowed its banks within the province.

Weather forecasts predict that the rain will persist until Wednesday, and the Korea Meteorological Administration has issued a warning, classifying the current weather conditions as “grave” and extremely perilous.

South Korea is no stranger to flooding during the summer monsoon period; however, the country is typically well-prepared, resulting in a comparably low death toll. Nevertheless, scientists assert that climate change has amplified the severity and frequency of extreme weather events worldwide.

Last year, South Korea experienced record-breaking rains and flooding that claimed the lives of more than 11 individuals. Notably, three people tragically perished in a basement apartment in Seoul, reminiscent of the acclaimed Oscar-winning Korean film “Parasite.” The government attributed the severity of the 2022 flooding to climate change, declaring it the heaviest rainfall witnessed in Seoul over the past 115 years of recorded weather history.

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