200 dead or missing after Korean typhoon

By JONG-HEON LEE, UPI Correspondent  |  Sept. 2, 2002 at 8:24 AM
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SEOUL, Sept. 2 (UPI) -- Some 200 people are dead or missing as the most powerful typhoon in more than four decades ripped through South Korea over the weekend, officials said Monday.

The government disaster agency said that 127 people were dead and 71 were missing from floodwaters and landslides triggered by Typhoon Rusa that slammed into the country for two days.

"The death toll is expected to go up as the searches for the missing or buried people are still going on," said Kim Jin-young, a director at the National Disaster Prevention Headquarters. "Reports of casualties are still coming in from throughout the country."

Property losses were estimated at $262 million and are expected to soar, anti-disaster officials said. The typhoon damaged more than 511 buildings and flooded more than 17,000 homes and 41,000 hectares of farmland across the nation, the agency said.

Rusa lashed with gusts of up to 127 mph on Saturday and dropped a record 34 inches of rain on the eastern coastal city of Kangnung.

More than 27,000 residents were ordered to evacuate low-lying areas, although they started to return to their water-logged homes as Rusa moved from the peninsula and died down Sunday afternoon. Electricity, gas and telephone lines remained cut off in many flood-ravaged areas.

The typhoon washed away 202 bridges and severely damaged railways and roads in 174 places, paralyzing the country's transportation network, according to the transportation ministry.

"It would take about six months to repair typhoon-damaged railroads," said a spokeswoman for the Korean National Railroad. It was the first time for a section of the main Seoul-Busan Expressway to be closed since its construction in 1970.

Downpours also destroyed flowerbeds and other street decorations for the Asian Games, set for Sept. 29-Oct. 15 in Busan, the country's second biggest city.

The typhoon forced South and North Korea to suspend a cruise project to a mountain resort on the North's east coast. "Many facilities in the North's mountain were destroyed by the typhoon," an official said.

Tens of thousands of soldiers, police and government officials were mobilized to help repair towns but lack of personnel and equipment hampered efforts to repair the damage from the 15th typhoon of the year.

President Kim Dae-jung convened an emergency Cabinet meeting and ordered the government and military to mobilize all possible personnel and equipment for rescue and repair operations.

Minister of Government Administration and Home Affairs Lee Keun-sik estimated that a relief fund of up to $2.5 billion may be needed to repair damaged public utility services and help victims of the typhoon.

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