Weakened tropical storm Khanun reaches Seoul after battering coastal South Korea

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Tropical storm Khanun poured intense rain on South Korea on Thursday, turning roads into chocolate-coloured rivers and leaving at least one person dead, before weakening as it reached major urban centres near the capital.

More than a foot of rain fell in eastern and southern areas after the storm made landfall on the mainland in the morning. Emergency workers responded to increasing reports of flooding and landslides by the afternoon.

More than 15,000 people, mostly in southern regions, were evacuated from their homes as emergency workers responded to landslides, flood-damaged homes and rising rivers and streams. As of Thursday night, workers managed to restore electricity to 38,000 of the 40,300 homes that experienced power outages.

Officials shut down hundreds of freeways, streets and public parks and sent text alerts warning about the perils posed by Khanun, which is hitting South Korea weeks after torrential rains caused flash floods and landslides that killed at least 47 people.

Five people on an inflatable raft paddle through floodwaters, surrounded by half-submerged houses.
Rescue workers on a boat search for missing people in floodwaters caused by tropical storm Khanun in Daegu, South Korea, on Thursday. (Yun Kwan-shick/Yonhap/The Associated Press)

After making landfall at around 9:20 a.m. near the southeastern port city of Geoje, Khanun on Thursday night was passing the densely populated Seoul metropolitan area, where half of the country’s 51 million people live. The storm delivered heavy rain as it slowly plowed across the country, but its strength increasingly diminished as it moved deeper inland.

Khanun was generating maximum wind speeds of 72 kilometres per hour, compared to around 129 km/h at the point of landfall.

In the nearby port city of Incheon, workers responded to flooded homes and collapsed walls, but there were no immediate reports of injuries or deaths in the area.

The storm was expected to move into North Korea early Friday, but forecasters said the greater Seoul area would still feel its force until Friday afternoon.

Rescue workers on the job

The southern inland city of Daegu was among the hardest hit areas of South Korea, where rescue workers navigated a submerged village in rubber boats, looking for residents who might have been left behind.

A 67-year-old man who was found unconscious near a bloated stream was later pronounced dead at a hospital, according to Lee Ga-yeon, an official at the Daegu fire department. The city’s emergency workers were searching for another person who got swept into a stream while using a wheelchair.

Across the country, emergency workers traversed thigh-high waters to repair embankments, rescue trapped pedestrians, clear uprooted trees and other debris and set up flood shields to protect markets. 

At least 63 roads and 39 homes and buildings were destroyed or damaged by floods, the Ministry of the Interior and Safety said.

More than 620 motorways were shut down, more than 400 flights were grounded and nearly 1,600 schools closed nationwide, according to the safety ministry and aviation authorities. Hundreds of train rides were cancelled, ferry services were fully halted and more than 60,000 fishing vessels sent to port.

In North Korea, state media described nationwide efforts to strengthen the monitoring of roads, railways, bridges and coastlines, and to employ measures to protect factory machines and crops.

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Khanun meandered around southern Japanese islands for more than a week, knocking out power and disrupting transit. The Japan Meteorological Agency warned of possible mudslides and flooding in the areas affected. It also said Typhoon Lan was gaining strength in the Pacific Ocean and forecast to affect Japan’s main islands next week.

Lan was about 220 kilometres south of Chichi island and packing winds up to 126 km/h on Thursday, threatening the remote islands with high winds and heavy rain through the weekend, Japan’s meteorologists said.

The Central Japan Railway Co. said some Shinkansen bullet train services may be delayed or suspended between Sunday and Wednesday depending on the typhoon’s path.

Khanun previously forced South Korea to evacuate the World Scout Jamboree that was taking place at a coastal campsite. About 37,000 Scouts, including 235 Canadian youth and 143 volunteers, were transferred to university dormitories, government and corporate training centres. and hotels in Seoul and nearby areas.

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Despite the storm, organizers were proceeding with plans to hold a K-pop concert Friday to go with the Jamboree’s closing ceremony.

Workers dressed in raincoats worked on scaffolding at the Seoul World Cup Stadium to set up lights and other stage preparations Thursday afternoon, even as the wind started to pick up in the city.

 



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