In a repeat of last year, heavy rains lead to massive floods in North Korea

Homes that had been rebuilt were destroyed again by rising waters, and at least two people were reportedly killed.
By Chang Gyu Ahn for RFA Korean
2022.08.17
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In a repeat of last year, heavy rains lead to massive floods in North Korea A person walks in Sungri Street in the rain in Pyongyang, North Korea, Wednesday, July 13, 2022.
AP

Widespread flooding caused by heavy rains left at least two North Koreans dead and destroyed crops and homes across the country, including residences that had been rebuilt after they were lost to rising waters last summer, sources in the country told RFA.

July and August are the wettest months on the Korean peninsula. In 2021, thousands of North Koreans were forced to evacuate their homes for higher ground. Torrential rains returned last weekend, leaving many of the same people who suffered a year ago scrambling to safety once again. 

“More than 50 households had to evacuate in a hurry,” a resident of Hongwon county in the eastern province of South Hamgyong told RFA’s Korean Service Monday on condition of anonymity for security reasons. 

The rains hit South Hamgyong on Sunday, submerging farmlands and ruining dozens of houses, according to the source.

“The evacuated households were those near the Sodaechon River, including Nampung and Pohyun villages. Fortunately there were no casualties, but the houses that were flooded during the rainy season last year were flooded again,” the source said.

“The residents barely escaped, and they are shedding tears of lamentation,” he said. “Among the houses claimed by the river this time were several new houses built by mobilized military personnel after the collapse of the residents’ previous homes.”

“Mobilization” refers to the government’s practice of using soldiers and citizens for free labor on state projects. After last year’s flooding, the government mobilized soldiers to rebuild in many parts of the country. 

“Several bridges on the Sodaechon River, the largest river in Hongwon, have yet to be restored after last year's flood damage, so the fleeing residents had to take off their clothes and cross the swollen river,” the source said.

The government had not announced any relief measures as of Monday, according to the source, possibly because they could interfere with celebrations of the national holiday to mark the anniversary of the Korean peninsula’s 1945 liberation from Japanese rule at the end of World War II.

Authorities also may not want to distract from Kim Jong Un’s Aug. 10 declaration that North Korea had halted the spread of  COVID-19, the source speculated. 

The Sachon River in North Pyongan province’s Kwaksan county overflowed after it had rained in the northwestern province most of the month, a source there told RFA on condition of anonymity to speak freely.

“Heavy rains from the 7th to the 10th overlapped with the maximum high tide, causing the river to flood,” the second source said.

“From the beginning of this month, heavy rains have been pouring continuously on the West Coast, including Kwaksan county. On Aug. 14, a ‘heavy rain intermediate warning’ was issued for the entire West Coast area. In August alone, the Sachon River flooded twice, flooding both rice paddies and fields around the mouth of the river,” he said.

Many people who live near the mouth of the river keep small wooden boats at a tiny port. Dozens of the boats were washed away as the sea rose higher and higher, the second source said.

“Two men who were trying to save a ship were swept away and killed,” he said.  “In Kwaksan county, there is a lot of farmland that has been developed on reclaimed land.  But the farmland along the coast has been flooded for more than a week.”

The rains destroyed vegetable gardens tended to by farmers and residents, he said.

“Since the mountains on the West Coast are bare without trees, when it rains a lot, the embankment collapses and the river overflows. This unusual rainy season has ruined all of the efforts that farmers and residents have made since the spring,” he said.

“Residents affected by the heavy rains in various parts of the country are at a loss. ... Nevertheless, today's newspapers and broadcasts show no news of the damage and no countermeasures, but only stories about the Aug. 15 celebration and mobilized soldiers returning from Pyongyang.”

Translated by Claire Shinyoung Oh Lee and Leejin J. Chung. Written in English by Eugene Whong.

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