North Korea is struggling to cope with a worsening flood crisis that has killed at least 13 people and damaged thousands of homes in the past week.
VOA correspondent Steve Herman witnessed the impact of the floods in North Pyongan province on Monday and Tuesday, when he made a rare state-sanctioned visit to the region northwest of Pyongyang. North Korea seldom allows foreign journalists to access to such areas.
Speaking by phone from Pyongyang Wednesday, Herman said heavy rain has flooded roads and crop land and washed away bridges, including one that he took as he left the North Korean capital to visit the northern county of Hyangsan.
"We saw loudspeaker trucks calling out work crews, we saw people out on the streets with ox carts, push carts, army vehicles, crews with some uniform personnel loaded in the back of dump trucks, people out on the roads trying to repair the infrastructure as quickly as they can. The lights were on and off in Hyangsan where we were, but there were thunderstorms going on at that time," he said.
North Korea's news agency KCNA has reported 13 deaths from flooding since July 17 and damage to thousands of homes.
Herman said he did not see people fleeing to higher ground.
"In other provinces, apparently that is where they suffered the brunt of the damage from the flooding. Even close to Pyongyang, we saw streets that were pretty severely flooded. But here in the capital, everything looks fine right now," he said.
A Beijing-based representative of the International Federation of the Red Cross Monday said 10,000 people were displaced in the Anju region of South Pyongan province when a river burst its banks.
Francis Markus said the Red Cross was sending tarps, water purification tables and hygiene kits to survivors in Anju, where 80 percent of the city was under two meters of water.
Pyongyang continued preparations for extravagant celebrations to mark the 60th anniversary of the armistice that ended the Korean war, despite the floods and long-running food shortages in the impoverished nation.
Herman said the preparations include people pulling weeds out of lawns by hand, and the display of posters lauding Saturday's anniversary, which the North refers to as "victory day."
"As we were coming into town, we saw one of the new twin high-rise buildings being completed and were told in this particular building that leader Kim Jung Un is giving free apartments to the scientists who had worked on the successful space rocket and nuclear weapons programs," he said.
Pyongyang launched a rocket in December and tested a nuclear weapon in February, defying international warnings to refrain from such acts and prompting tougher U.N. Security Council sanctions against the country.
(Michael Lipin and Tara Hosseini contributed to this report from Washington.)