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Typhoon leaves 13 dead or missing

June 26, 2011 - 20:33 By 천성우
A tree is uprooted on a Seoul street by strong winds on Sunday as Typhoon Meari approaches the nation. (Yonhap News)

Thirteen people were reported dead or missing over the weekend due to a heavy downpour that pounded the country.

With Typhoon Meari expected to affect the Korean Peninsula through Tuesday, the government advised people to take extra care for their personal safety.

According to local police, a 3-year-old girl was washed away by rapids in a valley near her house Saturday in Yeongwol, Gangwon Province. An emergency rescue officer, who searched for her, was also swept away by the waters.

In Gyeongju, North Gyeongsang Province, an elderly man in his 70s drowned at a reservoir while fishing, and in Sangju in the same province, a farmer in his 50s was found dead in a waterway.

Two others were reported missing in Jecheon, North Chungcheong Province. One was a tourist and another was believed to be a male student. According to witnesses, the student tried to pick up some money floating on the current, but lost his step and drowned.

In Chungcheong area, more than 300 millimeters of precipitation was reported as of Sunday morning while North Gyeongsang areas saw up to 100 millimeters of rain, with gusts blowing at up to 20 meters per second.

In Cheongwon, North Chungcheong Province, a dike around a 2-meter-deep reservoir broke down, releasing tons of water and flooding nearby areas. Five other areas in the province reported washouts and landslides that blocked traffic.

The “Bridge of Defense” in Chilgok, North Gyeongsang, where South and North Korean troops fought for control of Nakdong River during the Korea War (1950-1953), collapsed due to the floods. According to the local authorities, the pier of the bridge gave way, causing the 100 meter span to sink into the water on Saturday.

Environmental activists claimed that a massive dredging of the basin of the river as part of President Lee Myung-bak’s “four river refurbishment project” made the bridge vulnerable to flooding.

The Korea Meteorological Administration announced that Meari has been approaching the Korean peninsula faster than forecasted. The storm was due to land in Ongjin, North Chungcheong Province, Sunday, and expand its effect over most of the country.

The state weather agency issued a typhoon warning for Jeju Island and western coastal areas and a typhoon alert for the rest of the country. Marine and aviation traffic was halted and fishermen were advised to pay extra attention to their fishing vessels.

However, since the typhoon with a strong wind is expected to pass the southern part rather mildly and then head straight to the North Korean region, its damage in South Korea will be lighter than originally assumed, the agency said.

“Meari is expected to leave Korea Monday afternoon to Tuesday. We will have to keep watch on its course,” a KMA official said, adding that people still need to be cautious of gales.

By Bae Ji-sook (