Rescuers recover last body from flooded South Korean tunnel
SEOUL – Rescue workers recovered the last body and ended search operations at a flooded underpass in South Korea, where more than a dozen people died in an incident that is now the subject of multiple official probes.
South Korea is at the peak of its summer monsoon season, and days of torrential rain have caused widespread flooding and landslides, with rivers bursting their banks, and reservoirs and dams overflowing. More rain is forecast in the coming days.
The Interior Ministry said that 41 people were killed, and another nine were still missing nationwide in the heavy downpours, most of them buried by landslides or falling into a flooded reservoir.
Search and rescue operations at the 430m tunnel in Cheongju, North Chungcheong province, ended late on Monday after rescuers recovered the last body, it said.
The tunnel was inundated on the morning of July 15 after floodwaters swept in too quickly for the vehicles inside to escape.
A total of 17 vehicles, including a bus, were trapped and 14 people were killed, the Interior Ministry said.
The tunnel will remain closed for additional inspections as part of the probe into the cause of the deadly incident, it added.
On Monday, the South Korean government and the police launched separate enquiries into the flooding of the tunnel, with President Yoon Suk-yeol blaming mismanagement of danger zones for the loss of life.
The majority of the casualties nationwide – including 19 of the dead and eight of the missing – were from North Gyeongsang province, and were largely due to massive landslides in the mountainous area that engulfed houses with people inside.
The Korea Meteorological Administration forecast more heavy rain through Wednesday, and urged the public to “refrain from going outside”.
South Korea is regularly hit by flooding during the summer monsoon period, but the country is typically well-prepared and the death toll is usually relatively low.
Scientists say climate change has made weather events around the world more extreme and more frequent.
South Korea endured record-breaking rains and flooding in 2022, which left more than 11 people dead.
They included three people who died trapped in a Seoul basement apartment of the kind that became internationally known because of the Oscar-winning Korean film Parasite.
The government said at the time that the 2022 flooding was the heaviest rainfall since Seoul weather records began 115 years ago, blaming climate change for the extreme weather. - AFP