- 12 people died in underpass drowning
- Search efforts continue as some question why it wasn’t closed
- Yoon visited the landslide-hit area and promised to rebuild
- Rain damage in North Korea is still unclear
SEOUL, July 17 (Reuters) – South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol on Monday accused officials of failing to follow disaster response rules as the death toll from days of rain rose to 40, including a dozen drownings.
Flooding has occurred in central and southern parts since Thursday as the rainy season, which began in late June, has reached its peak. The Home Ministry said nine people were missing and 34 injured across the country.
There were 12 deaths, including three bodies found overnight in a tunnel in Cheongju, 110 km (68 miles) south of Seoul, where 16 vehicles, including a bus, were flooded on Saturday.
The incident raised questions about South Korea’s efforts to prevent and respond to flood damage. Some motorists who regularly use the road have accused the government of failing to block access to the sewers despite forecasts of massive flooding.
Yoon, who returned from an overseas trip, convened a disaster recovery meeting on Monday and acknowledged that the situation has worsened due to poor management of vulnerable areas.
“We have repeatedly emphasized access control and precautionary evacuation to dangerous areas since last year, but unless the basic principles of disaster response are put in place, it will be difficult to ensure public safety,” Yoon told the crowd.
According to the interior ministry, nearly 900 fire, police and military personnel participated in the sewer rescue operation, using boats, underwater drones and other equipment.
Seo Jeong-il, the fire chief in West Cheongju, told a briefing on Monday that there were no signs of further casualties among the remaining vehicles in the tunnel, although search efforts continued.
Floods have claimed dozens of lives in recent monsoons as weather patterns become more extreme.
The government last year vowed to better deal with climate change disasters after the heaviest rain in Seoul in 115 years left at least 14 dead and flooded subways, roads and homes, including in Gangnam district.
On Monday, Yoon flew by helicopter to some of the disaster areas. Earlier, he called for intensive efforts to rescue the remaining victims and promised support to the victims, including designating flood-affected areas as Special Disaster Zones.
“The government will restore everything, so don’t worry too much,” Yoon said after meeting residents of Yecheon in North Gyeongsang Province, where landslides left 19 dead and eight missing.
The situation beyond North Korea’s border is unclear, but state media in recent weeks have cited measures to protect crops in a country hit by heavy rainfall and severe food shortages.
At a briefing, the South’s Unification Ministry said it had asked Pyongyang to inform Seoul of plans to open water from its Hwanggang Dam. In 2009, six South Koreans were killed as a result of the release of water from the dam.
Reported by Hyeonhee Shin; Additional reporting by Hyunsu Yim; Editing by Ed Davis, Tom Hogue and Lincoln Feist
Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.