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Century-Worst Deluge Kills Dozens in South Korea

South Korean soldiers remove debris at a damaged apartment after a landslide caused by heavy rains in Seoul, South Korea, July 28, 2011
South Korean soldiers remove debris at a damaged apartment after a landslide caused by heavy rains in Seoul, South Korea, July 28, 2011

The Korean peninsula is being drenched by one of the worst rainstorms in a century. Landslides and other weather-related incidents have left at least 48 people dead in South Korea, including 10 college students who were volunteer teachers at a rural elementary school. The students were sleeping in a guest house which was buried by a landslide.

Authorities say, in southern Seoul, at least 15 people died when a landslide from Mount Umyeon slammed into dozens of homes at the foot of a mountain.

Torrential rainfall, which began Tuesday and is forecast to continue through Friday, is taking its toll on the Korean peninsula but there is little information coming from North Korea on the extent of any casualties or damage there.

Video clip: South Korea landslide (video scenes only)

n addition to triggering fatal landslides, the rains have turned highways into canals, submerging cars and buses at major intersections in Seoul. Portions of two major highways parallel to the Han River in the city of 10 million people were closed because of high water.

In some of the South Korean capital’s fanciest neighborhoods, south of the river, hundreds of homes, business and subway stations were flooded. The heavy downpours are also blamed for disrupting electricity and Internet services in some of those neighborhoods.

South Korea’s agriculture ministry says some rice and vegetable farms in two provinces have been destroyed.

The country’s National Emergency Management Agency says relief supplies have quickly been given to victims but it will take some time yet for crews to remove water, sand and mud from flood-damaged buildings.

Agency spokesman Kim Jong-sun says the situation is still precarious and advises people to be very cautious even after the showers subside.

Kim says the ground in Seoul and surrounding provinces is saturated because of the heavy rain so people should avoid construction sites and other open flooded areas, such as parking lots, where there is a possibility of electrocution.

South Korea’s military is warning of the danger of displaced land mines in a residential neighborhood. The mines were originally buried near an air defense artillery unit on a mountain in the capital.

South Korean Meteorological Administration meteorologist Lee Hyun-gyu says Seoul has been deluged by up to 60 millimeters of rain per hour - a record amount.

Lee says more than 300 millimeters of rain fell on Seoul just on Wednesday.

That is the largest amount of daily precipitation ever recorded during a July day in the capital and the third wettest day since records began being kept in 1907.

Seoul has been drenched with more than 530 millimeters of rain since Tuesday, with an additional 150 millimeters predicted to hit the city through Friday.

Meteorologists blame the heavy downpour on an unstable atmosphere with a mix of moist and dry air clashing over the Korean peninsula amid congested airflow. They predict that by the time the skies clear, more than 600 millimeters of rain will have fallen in some areas.

The picture is more opaque from North Korea with meteorologists in Seoul saying some areas of the North are also experiencing heavy rainfall. But the state-run media in the communist North has not yet reported on its severity, as it did after flooding in the middle of last month.

Following an emergency request on Monday from North Korea to United Nations' organizations, the International Committee for the Red Cross and Red Crescent, the following day, sent 600 kits containing bottles of water, utensils, blankets and tarps to the country's North Hwanghae province.

The Red Cross says an additional 2,460 kits containing soap, toilet paper, towels, toothbrushes, toothpaste and water purification tablets will also be sent to South Hwanghae province. Those provinces were apparently hard hit by last month's flooding.