SEOUL, South Korea — Some of the heaviest rains in decades have flooded the South Korean capital region, turning Seoul’s streets into rivers jammed with cars and causing flooding to cascade through subway stations. At least eight people were killed – some by drowning in their homes – and seven others were missing, while more rain was forecast.
Abandoned cars and buses were strewn on the streets as the water receded on Tuesday as workers cleared uprooted trees, mud and debris with excavators and blocked damaged roads and sidewalks. Landslide warnings have been issued in nearly 50 cities and towns, while 160 hiking trails in Seoul and the mountainous Gangwon province have been closed.
“The heavy rains are expected to continue for days…we must maintain our alertness and respond with all our efforts,” President Yoon Suk Yeol said at the government emergency headquarters. He drew the attention of officials to areas vulnerable to landslides or floods and to reducing the dangers of already damaged roads and facilities to avoid more deaths.
Most Seoul subway services have resumed normal operations, but dozens of routes have been closed for safety reasons. The military was ready to deploy troops to help with recovery efforts if requested by cities or regional governments, Defense Ministry spokesman Moon Hong-sik said.
The rain started Monday morning and intensified throughout the evening.
As night fell, people waded through the streets of Gangnam, one of Seoul’s busiest business and entertainment districts, where cars and buses were stuck in mud-colored waters. Commuters were evacuated as water cascaded down the stairs of Isu subway station like a waterfall. In nearby Seongnam, a rain-weakened hill collapsed onto a college football field.
Rescuers failed to reach three people – two sisters in their 40s and a 13-year-old girl – who called for help before drowning in a basement house in southern Gwanak district from Seoul on Monday evening. Another woman drowned at her home in nearby Dongjak district, where a public worker died while clearing fallen trees, likely from electrocution. Choi Seon-yeong, an official with the Dongjak district office, said it was not immediately clear whether the water was electrified due to a damaged power source or equipment that the man was using.
Three people were found dead in the debris of landslides and a collapsed bus station in the nearby towns of Gwangju and Hwaseong.
Four people are missing in the Seocho district in southern Seoul, which is also home to the private residence of Yoon, who his office said spent hours on the phone receiving briefings and giving instructions overnight while as rain flooded some of the streets near its high-rise apartment complex.
Nearly 800 buildings in Seoul and nearby cities were damaged while at least 790 people were forced to evacuate their homes, the Interior and Security Ministry said.
The country’s meteorological agency on Tuesday maintained a heavy rain warning for the Seoul metropolitan area and neighboring areas and said rainfall could reach 5 to 10 centimeters per hour (2 to 4 inches) in some areas. He said about 10 to 35 centimeters (4 to 14 inches) more rain was expected in the capital region through Thursday.
More than 43 centimeters (17 inches) of rain was measured in Seoul’s hardest-hit Dongjak district from Monday to midday Tuesday. Rainfall per hour in this area exceeded 14 centimeters (5.5 inches) at one point Monday evening, which was the heaviest hourly downpour measured in Seoul since 1942.
Rainstorms have also hit North Korea, where authorities have issued heavy rain warnings for the south and west of the country. North Korea’s official Rodong Sinmun newspaper described the rain as potentially “disastrous” and called for measures to protect farmland and prevent flooding on the Taedong River, which runs through the capital, Pyongyang.