Seoul, South Korea – Tragedy struck South Korea as rescue workers discovered the lifeless bodies of seven individuals inside a bus trapped in a flooded underground tunnel. The relentless downpour of torrential rains over the past few days led to severe flooding, landslides, and the overflowing of a significant dam.
Officials from the central town of Osong revealed to Yonhap news agency on Sunday that six additional bodies were recovered from the 685-meter-long (2,247 feet) tunnel. Rescue teams remained engaged in a desperate race against time to reach several individuals still trapped inside, reported Al-Jazeera.
Approximately 400 rescue workers, including divers, tirelessly combed through the tunnel located in the central city of Cheongju. The flash flood, which occurred on Saturday evening, engulfed numerous vehicles, including a bus. Seo Jeong-il, the chief of the city’s fire department, provided updates during a briefing on the ongoing rescue operation.
Captured photos and video footage from the scene showcased the tireless efforts of rescue workers, establishing a perimeter and utilizing rubber boats to navigate the flooded area while pumping out brown water from the tunnel.
The underpass, equipped with four lanes, succumbed to flooding when the banks of the nearby Miho River collapsed after three consecutive days of heavy rainfall.
Reports suggest that the deluge overwhelmed the tunnel too rapidly for individuals to escape. Fire officials estimated that the tunnel filled with water in as little as two or three minutes.
On Saturday, authorities confirmed the recovery of one body from the tunnel while saving nine people who managed to cling to the sides of the guardrails. The Korea Herald newspaper provided this information.
At the time of the incident, 15 vehicles, including the bus and 12 cars, were trapped within the tunnel, with a total of 11 individuals reported missing on Saturday.
“One of the nine survivors told Yonhap on Saturday, ‘There were many cars inside the tunnel when the water began coming in, and it rose very rapidly. I don’t understand why the tunnel wasn’t closed earlier,'” as recounted by Yonhap.
From Italy and Greece, to Canada and South Korea… tens of millions of people across the globe are currently grappling with dangerously high temperatures, floods and wildfires.
Experts attribute the severity of these events to the effects of climate change. pic.twitter.com/NZvyWmMQWe
— DW News (@dwnews) July 16, 2023
South Korea, currently in the midst of its summer monsoon season, has endured relentless heavy rains since July 9.
Late on Saturday, the Ministry of Interior and Safety reported that landslides and flooding triggered by the downpours claimed the lives of 26 individuals on Saturday and Friday. These fatalities were concentrated in the central and southeastern regions of the country.
North Gyeongsang province suffered the majority of casualties, with 17 people losing their lives. Nine individuals remain missing in this area, predominantly due to massive landslides that engulfed homes.
In the hardest-hit regions, one emergency responder conveyed to Yonhap, “Entire houses were swept away whole.”
The ministry revealed that approximately 5,570 individuals were compelled to evacuate due to the rainfall. This figure includes thousands of residents who were ordered to flee their homes after the Goesan Dam in North Chungcheong province experienced overflow, leading to the submergence of nearby low-lying villages.
As of Saturday night, over 4,200 people sought refuge in temporary shelters.
The heavy rains have significantly disrupted travel across the country, resulting in the cancellation of approximately 20 flights, suspension of regular train services and some bullet trains, and the closure of nearly 200 roads.
While President Yoon Suk-yeol was on a visit to Ukraine on Saturday, he instructed Prime Minister Han Duck-soo to mobilize all available resources for an effective disaster response, according to his office. The prime minister urged officials to take preemptive measures against river overflows and landslides, while also requesting support for rescue operations from the defense ministry.
In light of the ongoing weather conditions, the Korea Meteorological Administration issued heavy rain warnings, emphasizing the grave danger posed by further anticipated rainfall through Wednesday of the following week.
South Korea, familiar with flooding during the summer monsoon period, typically exhibits preparedness, resulting in relatively low death tolls. However, last year the country experienced record-breaking rains and flooding, claiming the lives of at least 11 individuals. Notably, the Oscar-winning Korean film “Parasite” shed international light on the perilous living conditions in Seoul’s semi-basement apartments, where three individuals tragically lost their lives.
At that time, the South Korean government declared the 2022 flooding to be the heaviest rainfall witnessed in 115 years of Seoul’s weather records, attributing the extreme weather to climate change.