[Editorial] Rain bombardment
Published : Jul 28, 2011 - 18:51
Updated : Jul 28, 2011 - 18:51
Record downpours continued to bombard the central part of the nation for three consecutive days on Thursday, raising the death toll to 48. The “rain bombs” triggered landslides in Seoul, Chuncheon and Pocheon, killing more than 30 citizens. They also flooded thousands of houses and roads, leaving some 5,000 people homeless and causing traffic chaos and power outages.

In Seoul, the precipitation between Tuesday and Thursday exceeded 530 mm. The rainfall on Wednesday alone topped 300 mm, setting an all-time high for one-day precipitation in July.

The heavy downpours caused multiple landslides on Mount Umyeon in southern part of the city on Wednesday, burying dozens of houses in the scattered hillside villages. Police said 15 were killed and two are missing. The villages also suffered landslides last September when a typhoon uprooted some 3,000 trees on the mountain.

On the same day, another landslide in Chuncheon, Gangwon Province, swept away a pension built on a steep slope, claiming the lives of 13 students of Inha University in Incheon. The students had visited the area to teach young students under a volunteer program.

The two incidents indicate the need to take action to prevent landslides. According to the National Emergency Management Agency, some 14,000 slopes across the nation have been designated as landslide-prone areas for regular safety checks. But this measure has proved ineffectual. The disaster site in Chuncheon was not even included on the list.

In the case of the disaster in Seoul, the residents of the hillside villages have failed to prepare for landslides even though they built their houses on a mountain slope or along a valley. It shows the need to strengthen safety awareness among residents as well as safety standards for buildings in landslide-prone areas.

According to the Korea Meteorological Administration, the continuing rain bombardment is attributable to the collision of a warm moist air mass, which was brought to the nation by strong southwest winds, with a dry air mass over the central part of the nation. Such a collision tends to cause localized heavy downpours, frequent thunderstorms, severe turbulence and gusty winds.

The problem is that localized heavy downpours are not easy to forecast. What meteorologists can say for certain is that they have become more frequent in Korea. Unusual weather phenomena are common these days due to global warming. Therefore it is necessary to adapt to climate change by upgrading the national disaster prevention systems and expanding disaster management efforts.