CHEONGJU, South Korea, July 16 (Reuters) – The bodies of eight people trapped in a tunnel submerged by heavy rains in central South Korea were recovered on Sunday, officials and local media said. 35 hit the country.
Chief Seo Jeong-il of the West Cheongju Fire Station said it was estimated that about 15 vehicles, including a bus, may have been submerged in the city’s tunnel shortly after Saturday’s rain washed away the banks of a nearby river.
CCTV footage aired on local broadcaster MBC showed vehicles with their wheels submerged and muddy water flowing through the tunnel.
“We are focusing on the search operation because there may be more people there,” Seo told reporters. “We’re doing everything we can to finish it today.”
South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported that the death toll in the tunnel, including one body recovered on Saturday, has risen to nine.
The Interior and Defense Ministry said 10 people were missing across the country as of 11 a.m. (0200 GMT), with 7,866 people under evacuation orders after heavy rains triggered landslides and flooding.
The ministry’s data did not include those in the flooded tunnels, as it was not immediately known how many people were trapped underwater.
The latest disaster comes despite South Korea vowing to step up preparedness against the downpours in Seoul after the heaviest rains in 115 years last year inundated basement apartments in low-lying neighborhoods, including the largely affluent Gangnam district.
A survivor of the submerged tunnel said the government should have restricted access to the underground sewer when flooding was expected, Yonhap reported.
An official in North Chungcheong province said the embankment unexpectedly collapsed before rainfall reached the level needed to control access to the tunnel.
President Yoon Suk-yeol, now on an overseas trip, held a video-linked response meeting and said some regions had failed to take precautions against extreme weather.
Yoon ordered Prime Minister Han Duk-soo to mobilize all available resources to minimize casualties and urged the weather agency to quickly issue forecasts as more heavy rain is expected in the coming days, his office said.
An additional 300 millimeters (12 inches) of rain could fall in central and southern parts of the country by Tuesday, the Korea Meteorological Administration said.
While South Korea often experiences heavy rains in the summer, it has seen a sharp increase in rainfall in recent years.
Korea Railroad Corp has suspended all slow trains and some bullet trains since Saturday due to safety concerns such as landslides, track flooding and falling rocks.
Reporting by Do Geun Kim, Daewong Kim and Hongji Kim in Cheongju and Soo-Hyang Choi in Seoul; Editing by Diane Croft, Michael Perry and Jamie Freed
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