South Korea will evacuate tens of thousands of scouts by bus from a coastal jamboree site as tropical storm Khanun looms, officials said Monday.
More than 1,000 vehicles will be used starting Tuesday morning to move 36,000 scouts — mostly teenagers — from the World Scout Jamboree in the southwestern county of Buan, according to Kim Sung-ho, a vice minister at South Korea’s Ministry of the Interior and Safety.
Most of the scouts, who come from 158 countries, will be accommodated at venues in the capital city, Seoul, and the nearby metropolitan area, he said.
Officials were trying to secure spaces at government training centres and education facilities as well as hotels. Kim said it would take six hours or more to evacuate the scouts from the campsite, which organizers said will no longer be used for any event after they leave.
Officials at Camp Humphreys, a major U.S. military base 70 kilometres south of Seoul, did not immediately confirm reports that thousands of scouts from Sweden, Norway and Denmark were to be transferred to its facilities.
Exodus began due to extreme heat
The base is already accommodating hundreds of American scouts, who were moved over the weekend because of heat concerns as South Korea grapples with one of its hottest summers in years.
The announcement about the evacuations came after the World Organization of the Scout Movement (WOSM) said it called on South Korea to quickly move the scouts from the storm’s path and “provide all necessary resources and support for participants during their stay and until they return to their home countries.”
The Canadian contingent posted WOSM’s call for expediting plans for departure on its Instagram account Monday.
The jamboree is held every four years, and scouts aged 14 to 17 were to attend the latest gathering from Aug. 1 to Aug. 12. Scouts Canada says it has 235 youth and 143 volunteers attending.
The largest contingent is from the U.K. with about 4,500 participants, while the U.S. has about 1,000.
No detailed plans for accommodations
South Korea’s government did not immediately specify any venues where the scouts will be staying. David Venn, global director of communications for the World Organization of the Scout Movement, said it was still waiting for government officials to provide detailed plans.
Khanun has taken an unusual, meandering path around Japan’s southwestern islands for more than a week, dumping heavy rain, knocking out power to thousands of homes and disrupting flights and train services.
On Monday afternoon, it had sustained winds of 108 km/h, with higher gusts, and was forecast to maintain that strength as it brushed Japan’s main island of Kyushu this week, the Japan Meteorological Agency said.
Storm could be felt as early as Wednesday
South Korea’s weather agency reported that Khanun was expected to make landfall in South Korea on Thursday morning, potentially packing winds as strong as 118 to 154 km/h. Large swaths of the country’s south, including Buan, could be affected by the storm as early as Wednesday, the agency said.
The plans to evacuate the scouts were announced hours after President Yoon Suk Yeol’s office said he called for “contingency” plans, including relocating them to hotels and other facilities in the greater capital area.
The agency said the storm was about 160 kilometres east of Amami city on Japan’s southern main island of Kyushu and moving gradually toward the north as of Monday afternoon. It warned residents in affected regions to watch out for mudslides, high winds and rough seas.
The storm has caused one death and 70 injuries on the southern Japanese island of Okinawa, according to the country’s Fire and Disaster Management Agency. Due to the forecast of harsh weather in the region, West Japan Railway Co. said there was a possibility of suspending Shinkansen “bullet” train services from Wednesday night to Thursday morning.
Hot temperatures have already forced thousands of British and American scouts to leave the site, which is made on land reclaimed from sea. The British scouts were transferred to hotels in Seoul while the American scouts were moved to Camp Humphreys.
Hundreds of participants had been treated for heat-related ailments since the jamboree started on Wednesday. Five adults and four youths from the Canadian contingent experienced “heat stress” from Tuesday to Friday, Scouts Canada said in a statement on Saturday.
Long before the event started, critics raised concerns about bringing such large numbers of young people to a vast, treeless area lacking protection from the summer heat.
Geir Olav Kaase, leader of the 700-member Norwegian contingent, said Norwegian scouts had already started leaving the campsite on Monday evening to “avoid any chaos that may arise in the event of a joint evacuation.”
The Swedish news agency TT said some 1,500 scouts from Sweden will be relocated to Camp Humphreys along with Norwegian and Danish scouts.
Choi Chang-haeng, secretary general of the jamboree’s organizing committee, said organizers have secured more than 340 evacuation venues, including community centres and gyms, in regions near Buan.