International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies personnel assess flood damage in Maenyang Dong, a suburb of Hoeryong City. Photo courtesy of Democratic People’s Republic of Korea Humanitarian Country Team
SEOUL, Sept. 12 (UPI) -- More than 100,000 people have been left homeless after flooding last month in North Korea, according to aid workers who went to the area last week.
"From what we saw, it is clear that this is a very major and complex disaster," Chris Staines, the head of the Pyongyang office of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, said in a posting by the agency. "So much of the Hamgyong Province's institutional capacity in health delivery, water supply and sanitation has been directly affected."
Staines was among 22 international and local staff members from 13 aid agencies stationed in Pyongyang in a government-led tour to the northern city of Hoeryong, across the Tumen River from China, and surrounding cities. They were in the area from Tuesday through Friday.
The flooding is so severe that North Korea is in the rare position of saying it needs help. That's even though the country was condemned for a nuclear test last week.
The state-run Korean Central News Agency said the Central Committee of the Workers' Party of Korea appealed publicly to party members and service personnel of the Korean People's Army to assist.
The Korean Central News Agency reported the country's northeast has been affected by the "heaviest downpour" since 1945.
North Korean authorities initially estimated that 44,000 people were displaced in flooding Aug. 30 from Typhoon Lionrock between Onsong in the north and Musan, a major mining center 100 miles down river.
North Korea said the death toll was 133 and 395 were missing, the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported Sunday.
"My impression was that this was a much worse disaster than the statistics indicate," Staines said. "The damage is very extensive, and there is clear evidence that the floodwaters were not only very high — you can see the water marks above the window frames — but also moving very rapidly in some places."
The agency said at least 140,000 people are in urgent need of assistance, including about 100,000 people who have been displaced. And about 600,000 people are without water.
"Humanitarian agencies have released relief materials from in-country stockpiles including food, nutritional supplements, shelter and kitchen kits, water purification and sanitation supplies, emergency health supplies and education supplies," the U.N. agency said.
The agency said the government, with support from the humanitarian community, is attempting to rebuild 20,000 houses by early October before winter when temperatures can plummet to as low as minus 30 degrees Fahrenheit.
Aid workers checked out destroyed medical clinics and a water pumping station near Hoeryong that served 50,000 people. Household livestock were also washed away, Staines said.
"In some villages that we visited on the outskirts of Hoeryong City, there was barely a building left unscathed," Staines said. "The floods came through with such force, they destroyed everything in their path. People were salvaging whatever possessions they could from piles of debris that used to be their homes.
"People displaced from the floods are now in a very difficult situation and there are real risks of secondary disasters, particularly relating to people's health."
Roads are still impassable and communication lost in some places.
More than 1,000 Red Cross volunteers are assisting local authorities in search and rescue efforts and first aid services.
"The spirit of support for those who have suffered through this disaster is very strong," said Staines. "There is a lot to do. Access to many areas remains a challenge and we still don't know the full situation in Yonsa County which is feared to be one of the most severely affected areas. Thousands of homes will need to be rebuilt in a short time-frame as winter is quickly approaching."