SEOUL/CHEONGJU, South Korea, July 16 (Reuters) – On Sunday, authorities said they recovered the bodies of eight people who were trapped in a torrential rain-soaked tunnel in central South Korea, with the death toll from days of torrential rain pounding in. The country rises to 37.
An estimated 15 vehicles, including a bus, were submerged in a city tunnel shortly after a dam of a nearby river was destroyed by heavy rains on Saturday, said Seo Jeong-il, chief of the West Cheongju Fire Station.
Dashcam video showed muddy water flowing into the tunnel while the driver was able to exit the tunnel, while other footage from surveillance cameras on local MBC channel showed vehicles driving through the tunnel with their wheels submerged.
“Our goal is to complete (today’s) exchange and search operations,” Seo told reporters.
He added that the death toll in the tunnel reached nine, including a body recovered on Saturday.
Kong Seung-pyo, a 60-year-old Cheongju resident who uses the tunnel frequently, said the government should have restricted access to the tunnel when floods were expected.
“I would have died too if I had been submerged in the water,” Kong told Reuters. “I have no words to express this frustrating feeling.”
The Ministry of Interior and Safety said nine people were missing across the country as of 6 p.m. (0900 GMT) as heavy rains caused landslides and floods, and 8,852 people were covered by evacuation orders.
The ministry’s data does not include those in the flooded tunnel because it was not immediately clear how many people were trapped underwater.
The latest disaster occurred despite South Korea’s pledge to step up preparation for heavy rains after Seoul was hit by floods last year that caused the heaviest rains in 115 years, inundating basement apartments in low-lying neighbourhoods, including the largely affluent Gangnam district. .
An official in North Chungcheong Province said the dam collapsed unexpectedly before rainfall reached the level required to restrict access to the tunnel.
President Yoon Seok Yul, who is now on an overseas trip, held a video-linked response meeting and said some regions had failed to take preventive measures against severe weather.
Yoon’s office said he had ordered Prime Minister Han Duk-soo to mobilize all available resources to reduce the number of infections and urged the meteorological agency to quickly release forecasts because more heavy rains are expected in the coming days.
The Korea Meteorological Administration said the central and southern parts of the country could receive up to 300 mm of additional rain by Tuesday.
While South Korea often experiences heavy rains in the summer, it has seen a sharp increase in torrential rains in recent years.
Korea Railways has suspended all slow and some express trains since Saturday due to safety concerns over landslides, track floods and rockfall.
Additional reporting by Do Gyun Kim, Daewoung Kim, and Hongji Kim in Cheongju and Soo-hyang Choi in Seoul; Editing by Diane Craft, Michael Berry, Jamie Fried and Alexandra Hudson
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